Kolbach a park transformed

Pickleball courts, new baseball diamond, rain garden turn quintessential neighborhood park into a showcase outdoor recreation area in Port

PORT WASHINGTON’S parks and street departments, along with volunteers from the Lake Michigan Bird Observatory, including Kathleen McGlone, helped plant native pollinator plants in the new rain garden at Kolbach Park. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff


Ozaukee Press staff

PORT WASHINGTON - Kolbach Park on Port Washington’s north side has been transformed.

The park is now a showcase for the city, sporting improvements that include pickleball courts, a new baseball diamond, a rain garden and a new pathway, all of which complement the existing playground and green space.

“That just looks phenomenal,” Mayor Ted Neitzke said Tuesday.

The project was intended to increase use of the park — not just by children but by people of all ages.

“We feel Kolbach has one of the best locations for a neighborhood park, and we felt some upgrades would be beneficial,” Supt. of Parks and Forestry Jon Crain said, noting the park is not just surrounded by homes but is also close to many of the city’s schools.

“We always knew that park had a lot of potential.”

To realize that potential, the city did much of the work in-house, he said, with the street and parks departments working jointly on many of the projects.

The process meant that the work had to be done over several years, he added, but it was worth it.

“That’s the only way this could happen,” Crain said. “If we had hired a contractor to do the work, it would have impacted our budget too much.

“It does take a little longer to do these things, but the payoff is worth the patience.”

The upgrades cost about $130,000, Crain noted, but hiring a contractor would have cost far more.

The improvements had been discussed for years, but the years-long projects only got underway in 2021, he said.

The work started with the baseball field, which was tucked in the northwest corner of the three-plus-acre park.

“It was in pretty rough shape, and it was in an area that often had water problems,” Crain said.

So the city moved the diamond to the northeast corner of the park, where the ground is higher.

Then the city worked to create a rain garden where the infield had previously been located.

Crain said the city enlisted the help of an environmental studies class at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which designed the rain garden last year.

The city then collaborated with the Lake Michigan Bird Observatory, which modified the design and then received a grant for the project.

The group also worked with the city to help install the rain garden, planting a number of native wetland plants, Crain said.

The city also tackled the renovation of the park pavilion, gutting the structure and creating an airy and inviting building in its place.

“We redid the floor, ceiling, walls and bathrooms,” Crain said. “We installed two new overhead glass doors.”

The work was done over the winter and completed earlier this year, he said.

Then the city tackled the basketball courts, which Crain said “were starting to get in pretty bad shape.”

To attract more people to the park, Crain said, the city decided to reconfigure the area and create three pickleball courts and one basketball court there.

Pickleball, he noted, has become so popular that the city realized it couldn’t meet the demand.

“It’s one of the fastest-growing sports,” Crain said. “We see people of all ages, from high school to retirement-age people, play pickleball. And we saw there was a big demand for more pickleball in the area.”

The courts, colored blue and green, were installed this spring, as well as a new pathway leading to them from Whitefish Road.

On the south side of the park near Jefferson Street, the city took out a concrete swale that cut across the entrance and replaced it with a French drain that removed the water just as efficiently and also looked more natural.

This, Crain said, made the area walkable and more welcoming for people.

And the work isn’t done yet, Crain said.

This summer, the city will add an asphalt path leading from Jefferson Street to the pavilion and extend the patio around the pavilion by 10 to 15 feet.

“It’ll give people an option if they want to grill out there,” he said.

While the city and students from Thomas Jefferson Middle School planted some new trees in the park for Arbor Day, Crain said there is more landscaping work to be done.

The west side of the park is overgrown with a number of invasive plants. Crain said the city plans to remove these and replace them with native trees and shrubs that will not only improve the ambience and be better for the environment but also create a buffer for the neighborhood surrounding the park.

It’s been gratifying to see the results, Crain said.

“Not only did it turn out well but it’s really nice to see how much the usage has increased” he said.

“The shelter was available to rent in the past but it seldom was rented. Now there’s been a large increase in rentals.”

As a matter of fact, Crain said, the pavilion was rented the first weekend after the work was completed.

Not only has the park been rented more often, more and more people are stopping by and using it on an informal basis, Crain said.

“That’s the whole point,” he said, “to get people out and using our parks.”


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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