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Hunter Hobby Park:
Riverside's Revitalized Railway

Project by David Evans and Associates, Inc.

A two-year renovation of Hunter Hobby Park in Riverside, Calif., includes more than two miles of railroad for the park's small-gauge steam train, a new train station, two play areas, two lighted softball fields, a multi-use/soccer field, two lighted basketball courts, three group picnic shelters, restroom and maintenance buildings, walking paths and onsite parking for more than 200 vehicles.

In the late 1950s, an engineer named Joseph Hunter laid railroad track for a small-gauge steam engine on land he owned in Riverside, Calif. When Hunter died in 1965, the land was donated to the city for park purposes, and local train enthusiasts partnered with the city to maintain the tracks, forming a volunteer group called the Riverside Live Steamers in 1966.

Over the years, Hunter Hobby became well known for steam train rides; however, rundown site amenities, including unpaved parking lots, inadequate public restrooms and an old ball field attracted few users. Outdated irrigation and storm drain systems left areas of the park flooded at times during the winter. After years of intensive use by the community, the 32-acre Hunter Hobby Park was in need of significant improvements.


The play area for older children (Landscape Structures) includes a large structure with shade sails, western themed store fronts, bridges, double deck lookouts, overhead climbing features, multiple slides, cactus and wagon wheel climbers, a stage coach see-saw and a swing set.

Through community workshops and public meetings, the city identified a need for a diverse master plan for Hunter Hobby that would provide more organized sports facilities, and to improvements to the railroad. David Evans and Associates, Inc., (DEA) worked with city staff on a design that included new softball fields, restrooms, basketball courts, picnic shelters, paved parking areas, and a new relocated train station to celebrate the park's heritage.

Railroad Revisited
The park's rehabilitation restored park amenities and expanded their uses to serve a more varied demographic. The park's 1/8-scale railroad was upgraded with a new train station with shade structures and misters. Relocated railroad signs and train memorabilia, including two historic neon railroad-crossing signs from a real train crossing, were also added.


Play components for younger children comprise a train engine and train cars with climbing and sliding features, a water tower deck with multiple slides, a train station, horse spring riders and a swing set. About 11,300 square feet of engineered wood fiber safety surfacing was installed in the two play areas.

Maintaining track alignment and crossings was critical. Grades had to remain as is in many areas throughout the site. New track sections and modified routes were designed so the new station could be relocated. New play areas for older and younger children were also developed around the park's railway/Old West theme.

The structure for older children western-themed storefronts, bridges, lookouts, shade sails, slides and stylized wagon wheel and cactus climbing features. The younger children's playspace includes a swing set and horse spring riders, water tower deck with multiple slides and a train station, and a train engine and rail cars with climbing and sliding features. More than 11,000 square feet of engineered wood fiber safety surfacing was installed beneath both play structures.


Ramps and transfer stations on both play structures provide accessibility to all park users. Additional modern renovations to the park and playground include upgraded lighting controls for ball fields and pathways, a smart irrigation controller system and low flow water fixtures. A "Green Action Programs" system was created for operations, maintenance, electronic use reservations and social media event updates.

Stormwater Savings
Solutions to the park's irrigation and flooding problems were stymied initially by concessions to the rail system. The tracks required a grade change of no more than one percent, so large areas of surface flow were not an option for controlling runoff. DEA devised a stormwater system that directs water to a network of catch basin inlets and below-grade stormwater piping. The system delivers water to five large dry wells beneath the parking lot, which collectively measure about 12,000 cubic feet, including a series of perforated pipes and angular rock. The wells connect to the park's larger storm drain and a larger, soft-bottomed bioswale in the park for periods of high rainfall. The perforated pipes and bioswale outlet encourage natural infiltration and groundwater recharge. Additional improvements include smart lighting and irrigation controls, the latter of which is saving the park more than 40 percent in water usage; low-flow water fixtures; recycling receptacles; surveillance cameras and "Green Action Programs" for operations, maintenance, online use reservations and Facebook and Twitter event updates.

Since the park's reopening in December 2011, tourists and residents of Riverside have returned to Hunter Hobby Park, riding the unique and historic steam train and reviving Joseph Hunter's passion a half-century later.

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December 6, 2019, 1:08 pm PDT

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