By Parker Shea, GSN Contributing Writer

A proud Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney stood in front of the new Mansel Carter Oasis Park’s placid fishing lake and began the park’s ribbon-cutting ceremony this month by mentioning the park’s namesake.

“Most of you know, some of you don’t, (that) we used to call him the ‘Man of the Mountain.’ He used to live on the San Tans. He was one of the fixtures up there for many years,” Barney said.

The 48-acre park includes a 5-acre fishing lake, an adventure-themed playground and splash pad, multi-use fields, baseball fields, basketball and volleyball courts and a trailhead to Queen Creek Wash.

The lake might be the park’s biggest draw because it is the first fishing lake in Queen Creek.

The playing fields also are expected to have great demand. A city statement pointed out that the park’s opening comes just in time for fall sports and the beginning of the hiking season.

Making sure the park is accessible for people with physical limitations and for young children were priorities.

Even the “Man of the Mountain” might have been persuaded to come down to relax at the sparkling new facility. Carter, the famed 20th-century Arizona prospector born in 1902, worked a variety of labor and trade jobs before being drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II.

After returning from the war, he made a living prospecting for gold until the death of his close friend, Marion Kennedy, in 1960. Carter died in 1980.

Tempe firm Architekton, which designed Tempe Center for the Arts and many other notable municipal projects around the Valley, designed the park’s shade structures and other built elements.

Banner Ironwood Medical Center donated $130,000 to Queen Creek for installation of rubberized surfaces on all play areas.

“As a father and grandfather, I can share how important it is for all of the youth with all abilities to play with one another and enjoy the facilities,” Barney said. “So on behalf of my family and all the families in Queen Creek, I want to thank Banner.”

The opening of Mansel Carter Oasis Park comes at a time when Maricopa cities and towns prioritize park investment to vastly differing degrees according to a recent study.

The study, “2018 City Park Facts,” published by The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, shows that public-park investment by municipalities varies widely among Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Scottsdale.

The study shows that the national median for public-park investment by cities is $83 per resident.

According to the same study, Gilbert is at the high end, spending $109 per resident. Gilbert’s high spending on parks in 2018 is largely due to construction of a 272-acre regional park. The project broke ground in May, and the first phase is expected to be completed this fall.

On the low end of the spectrum, Mesa spends $63 per resident, roughly 20 percent less than the national median.

The study revealed other facts about East Valley city parks.

For example, despite Mesa spending less per capita on its parks, 64 percent of its residents are within a 10-minute walk of their nearest park, the highest percentage of any of the East Valley communities for which the center collected data. With that abundance of existing parks, Mesa does not have the need to build new ones that newer municipalities do in newer, higher-growth areas of the East Valley.

Other East Valley cities have less walking access to parks. Some have much less.

For example, despite spending more per capita on parks, only 26 percent of Gilbert residents are within a 10-minute walk of the nearest park.

At only 36 parks, Gilbert has far fewer than Mesa, which has 224. But, Gilbert’s are larger in land area, averaging 6.9 acres to Mesa’s 2.8 acres.

If you’re a dog owner in Mesa, you might be out of luck. The city boasts only two dog parks for its nearly 500,000 residents, the same as Gilbert, which has half the population.

Chandler, roughly the same in population as Gilbert, has four dog parks.

The study suggests that park types, acreage and features also vary from city to city.

Mansel Carter Oasis Park boasts a wide variety of amenities. Collecting them all in one park could make the area a regional draw.

The fishing lake will be stocked late this month, according to the city, but the rest of the park’s attractions are ready now for the games, play, hiking and birthday celebrations that are the bustle of any brand-new park.