UW-Extension agent: City park survey results unreliable
Only about 4 percent of households in Rhinelander respond
BY KEVIN BONESKE
The results are in from the city parks survey sent out this summer to Rhinelander residents, but according to University of Wisconsin-Extension Community, Natural Resource and Economic Development agent Myles Alexander, who helped put the survey together, those results can’t be relied upon based on the return rate.
“The results of the survey may be interesting but they are not valid or reliable,” Alexander stated in his findings presented at Monday’s city Parks, Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting.
The survey, which was intended to help plan for the future use of the city’s parks, had been sent to households in Rhinelander in a utility mailing in June. The survey had to be returned to City Hall by Aug. 8 to be considered.
Though the 2010 U.S. Census listed 3,545 households in Rhinelander, Alexander reported the return rate was only about 4 percent (152), also noting a response rate of 7 percent from all households would provide “minimally valid and reliable results.”
“It’s not a random sample,” he said. “It would have been nice if we would have gotten twice as many responses to know that we were being valid, reliable and all that,” he said.
Had the survey instead been conducted randomly, Alexander reported “it would be best to have responses from 350 randomly selected households.”
Though 60 percent of the city households are rentals, Alexander said less than 3 percent of the survey respondents are renters, thereby excluding the majority of the households’ interests. He also noted survey respondents represented 79 children and youth so that, based upon the 2010 census reporting 1,850 age 19 and younger in the city, the survey represented about 4 percent of Rhinelander’s youth.
The survey asked respondents to rank the top-10 reasons they visit the city’s parks, along with a series of questions about the city’s two largest parks, Pioneer Park near the downtown area and Hodag Park on Boom Lake.
In addition to asking open-ended questions about what someone’s best memory and his or her vision is for the two parks, the survey also asked nine yes-or-no questions – asking whether those parks have adequate parking, trash bins, bathrooms, water fountains, pavilions, picnic tables and grills and are accessible by walking and biking – with space for comments.
The survey also asked residents about what they think the city is doing right regarding the park system, what else they would like to see in the park system and what else they believe the Parks, Buildings and Grounds Committee, mayor and City Council need to know as they plan the future parks.
The activities ranking in the top seven included walking/hiking, enjoying nature, county fair, historical museum, farmers’ market, playgrounds and pavilions/picnic.
Action on a proposed second softball field at Pioneer Park has been on hold pending the results of that parks survey. Construction of that field has been proposed where an ice rink with the boards in deteriorating condition had existed prior to the boards being taken down following the conclusion of this year’s Oneida County Fair.
That taking down of the boards, which had been previously talked about but never formally approved by the committee, was questioned by committee chair Sherrie Belliveau, who noted she wasn’t made aware of that until after it happened when false accusations about the committee were being circulated.
“This committee was accused of illegally passing something and not passing it on to council,” she said. “So there was a lot of garbage going around about this committee and about how it was handled, and we didn’t make that decision.”
Mayor Dick Johns said the ice rink “was in bad repair and it was time to be taken down.”
“I think that’s the parks director’s job – if it has to go down, it has to go down,” Johns said.
Belliveau said she obtained a legal opinion, in which the removal of the ice rink was covered under maintenance and was legal to do, though something that major in a park should come back to the committee to be addressed.
“There was a lot of people in the community that were very upset about (the ice rink coming down),” she said.
PARKS INPUT SESSION
More input about the city’s parks system will be gathered Sept. 8 at two guided sessions, which will be open to both city and non-city residents, at the Quality Inn of Rhinelander. Those sessions, in which Alexander will be the facilitator, will take place from 11 a.m-1 p.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m. Participants will be asked to provide ideas, prioritize initiatives and address challenges regarding the parks.