Parks plan for the future
Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Commission is preparing for the future by spending time creating a Master Plan of the county’s parks. The Commission began the process several months ago and when they hired planners from Stromberg/Garrigan and Associates and Toole Recreation Planning to help gear future improvements toward the projected growth in the county.
The consultants have met with staff and a designated Master Plan committee multiple times as well as with focus groups to discuss recreational needs within the county. Among those stakeholders have been fans of trails and members of multiple team sports groups. Individuals have attended at least one open to all public meeting.
On Tuesday evening, the second such meeting was held at Wright Denny Intermediate School. At that meeting, the planners provided many initial findings including the projection that Jefferson County’s population will grow and those coming desire sufficient parks and recreation facilities.
Jefferson County falls behind in the per capita amount of funding given to recreation. A preliminary report showed that the county provides financial support equating to approximately 2.2 percent of its annual budget or $18 per capita.
“The national average is $80 per capita for park funding,” Ann Toole, with Tool Recreation Planning, has reported. In addition, the initial report of the planners shows that the county’s park department spends $568 per acre on park maintenance as opposed to the national average of $8,000-$9,000 per acre.
Toole labels the running of the county’s park system as “bare bones.” The question, she said, is whether the system plans to continue as bare bones or establish standards to make this a premier system.
Sean Garrigan, with Stromberg/Garrigan and Associates. Said they have evaluated all the parks in the county and determined that many lack a certain appeal, whether it be aesthetic or functional. Many of the county’s parks are not built-out to their full potential, mainly to do lack of funding.
Toole said there are four main aspects of park programming that should be addressed: Connecting people to nature, fitness and wellness, youth activities and community events.
The county parks and recreation offers many programs and activities, many within the walls of the Community Center at Sam Michael’s Park. That facility is the only indoor venue in the park system. Several parks have picnic pavilions and some, such as Sam Michael’s, South Jefferson and Leetown offer baseball and softball facilities. Walking trails, which are a high priority to many, can be found at several parks including a new trail at the up and coming James Hite Park on the south side of the county.
Even walking trails are expensive; however, and finding funding to create everything that the citizens of the county desire is a constant challenge. Matching grants have been awarded that have helped provide some amenities within the parks, including a grant from Freedom’s Run to help establish the new trail at James Hite. That grant was matched by funds given by the Jefferson County Commission; however, there was clear warning given to the park staff and board that coming to the commission for funding is not an answer.
Toole explained Tuesday that a park system is something that is desired by those coming to the area, including businesses. The Master Plan’s initial report stresses that the county needs to see their park system as a benefit for economic development and adjust accordingly to provide amenities that will help draw businesses rather than deter them from coming.
“People think of parks and recreation as a cost, but it’s not. It’s an investment. For every dollar the government invests in a public park, $1.42 is spent in the local economy,” Toole said. “I want to convey the message that Jefferson County Parks and Rec is not asking for a handout. They’re asking for an investment in the quality of life in the county.”
Garrigan said the goal is to have a complete draft of the Parks Master Plan property written and available to the public by the end of the year or early in 2016. Comments, questions and suggestions from the public related to the Parks Master Plan may be viewed and submitted online at www.jeffersoncountyparkplan.mysidewalk.com.