Phase II of Hart Park master plan approved, meaning more improvements are coming soon

Steven Mayer, The Bakersfield Californian
·4 min read

Apr. 17—Some people say everything old is new again.

However, that concept may be a work in progress at Hart Park.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve plans and specifications for another round of improvements at the park northeast of metro Bakersfield that some have called the jewel of Kern County's park system.

Known as Phase II of the Hart Park Master Plan, the slated improvements include signage, landscaping, rock walls and other amenities at the east and west entrances — as well as at a popular trailhead inside the park — that will promote the safety and enjoyment of those who visit the 370-acre recreation area.

"Hart Park has been beautifying Kern County for a long time. It's time for Kern County to beautify Hart Park," said Jeff Flores, chief of staff for 3rd District Supervisor Mike Maggard, whose district includes the nearly 100-year-old park.

Flores was joined at the park Friday morning by county officials involved in park planning, and by three members of the Hart Park Working Group, a coalition of activists and concerned citizens who work in cooperation with the county to influence planning and priorities at the park and surrounding areas.

The Working Group is now under the organizational umbrella of the Kern River Parkway Foundation.

"The communication came from the ground up," Hart Park Working Group member Marion Vargas said of the group's interaction with the county.

It may initially make the process harder, she said, but vigilance from the community is ultimately a positive thing.

"It enriches the process and you end up with a better outcome," Vargas said.

The county's Chief General Services Officer Geoffrey Hill was also there Friday. He noted that the goal to target improvements at the park began four years ago under the new leadership of Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop.

Much has been accomplished, he said, but more work needs to be done.

"It's been a cooperative effort," Hill said of the county's interaction with the community through public meetings, public comments and more.

Hill and Senior County Administrative Office Manager Carl Brewer have attended numerous Working Group meetings.

"The elements we chose for the trailhead and at the east entrance and the west entrance were all generated in those public meetings in more general form," Hill said.

In addition, the county approved to move forward in rehabilitating the existing Hart Park Peacock House for reuse as a Visitor Center.

Phase II includes signage, landscaping, rock walls and other amenities at the east and west entrances that will promote safety and enjoyment of the 370-acre recreation area.

Kern River Parkway Foundation co-founder Bill Cooper said he and others in the group share some concerns that improving the trailhead, which is located just east of the Kern County Sheriff's Office shooting range inside the west entrance, will mean more boots trampling the hills and plateau area south of the park.

There are concerns that more people on the trails means the cutting of new paths, more erosion by hikers and off-road vehicles, and threats to the endangered Bakersfield cactus, which grows in the area.

"We have some issues, but nothing that can't be worked out with the county," Cooper said.

Hill agreed, and said the county is ready and willing to discuss any concerns and ideas for mitigation.

The improvements to the trailhead will include an informational kiosk, safety improvements to the beginning of the trail, and a waterless restroom or chemical toilet.

"It will be a concrete, hard-core building that can take a lot of abuse," Hill said.

Improvements to the west entrance were a priority. Most of the existing rock structure will remain but new reinforced signage will be added.

"It will help give us a sense of place," Hill said.

Indeed, a beautiful park deserves a beautiful sign to identify it with a sense of pride for Kern residents as well as out-of-county visitors.

The Board of Supervisors also gave the green light to moving forward in rehabilitating the existing Hart Park Peacock House — also known as the adobe house — for reuse as a tourism and visitor center.

The Hart Park Working Group's own Stephen Montgomery has been asked by the county to act as a liaison with contractors who may or may not have considerable experience with adobe construction.

Indeed, even the county had plans to demolish the Depression-era houses before the Working Group intervened.

"Steve knows as much about adobe as anyone in the county," Cooper said of Montgomery.

"He lives in an adobe house and has hands-on experience with adobe construction."

Bids on the remodeling and restoring the old adobe, which is listed on the state historical register — are due by mid-May, Hill said.

"We'll probably have a contractor identified by June," he said. "Construction is estimated to take between three and a half and five months."

It seems Hart Park is continuing to improve.

Maybe the riverside regional park will be both old and new again.

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.