City and county citizens identify opportunities, weaknesses of Parks and Recreation

Published 11:27 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Star Photo/Rebekah Price  Four groups split up to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of both city and county Parks and Recreation.

Star Photo/Rebekah Price
Four groups split up to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of both city and county Parks and Recreation.

Lack of funding, vision, promotion and a sports complex peaked on the list of city and county Parks and Recreation weaknesses discussed in a public meeting Tuesday. The meeting, at Valley Forge Baptist Church, gave citizens a forum to voice their concerns, goals and gratitude for the work done by the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department and the Carter County Parks and Recreation Board.
By assessing the needs and desires of both county and city residents, P&R officials hope they will be able to acquire funding more readily and further develop infrastructure and activities.
“It is clear from city and county residents that they greatly value recreation,” said Ken Gouge, Chairman of the Carter County P&R Board. “We understand that City Council and County Commission have difficult decisions to make when prioritizing funding, but public input shows recreation needs to be moved up on the list of priorities, and the practical consequence of that is we will need more funding.”
Currently the county allocates $11,218 for P&R. Though the board is in its infancy since its creation in March of 2015, it has at its fingertips a plethora of natural resources, which citizens noted as a strength in group discussions.
The board works with the Roan Mountain Community Park and farmers market, helped fund the Tweetsie Trail, and has plans to extend the trail to Roan Mountain to accommodate advanced cyclists on a more difficult stretch. Gouge reported that the board plans to offer birding opportunities, establish the county as an Appalachian Trail community, work with Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, and work with the City of Elizabethton to establish a sports complex and other opportunities. Gouge was especially excited about the idea of refurbishing the Bemberg Railroad Station into a museum right along the Tweetsie Trail.
Elizabethton allocates $1.2 million for Parks and Recreation and manages 10 parks, the Recreation Center, the linear path, the Joe O’Brien Field, 100 acres of parkland, 12 athletic fields, Franklin Pool and the Tweetsie Trail.
City P&R Director Mike Mains said they experienced a five-year period in which they could accomplish almost nothing because of funding. Though they have been fortunate to recover from that, Mains said needs do exist. He cited maintenance of facilities and creating a sports complex and athletic fields among primary needs, and listed a dog park, skate park and disc golf course among goals for the future.
“We want to maintain what we have and are trying to make lives better for people in the city and county,” said Mains.
The survey revealed that 63 percent of city park users have county addresses, and 79 percent of the total said they want a sports complex to be created. Mains said shared usage and joint projects incite the need for balanced funding.
Gouge said the county has plans to apply for grant funding, but said the county would have to match any funds it received.
The sports complex was among top suggestions for development, as it would accommodate residents and tourists with a variety of activities in one location. In the survey, citizens requested it have ball fields, restrooms, concession stands and trails. At the meeting, others suggested it have meeting rooms, infrastructure for both youth and adult recreation, a playground and shaded sitting areas.
One community member referenced a study by Pennsylvania State University that showed that diverse opportunities in one location draw more people that stay at the park or facility for longer to enjoy the variety of activities.
While variety was cited as a strength by some, others cited it as an opportunity for growth, naming infrastructure like a water feature and adult softball leagues as desirable additions to recreation.
Another popular idea that resulted from the survey was the possibility of creating “pocket parks.” These would be small recreational areas in the county and city that offer people public space to relax, picnic, walk and play. Gouge said they would need local groups to partner together to maintain these parks.
The extension of trails to these parks, neighborhoods and other areas was also a popular concept.
At the meeting, county P&R Board member Eric Anderson presented the results from a recent P&R survey to city and county residents. Of 555 responses, 57 percent used at least one city park in the last year and eight percent used the county park. The report showed that 35 percent used one of the two state parks, and 11 percent used TVA or national forest land.
It showed the six most popular parks were Cat Island Park, Kiwanis Park, Sycamore Shoals State Park, Roan Mountain State Park, Covered Bridge Park and Roan Mountain Community Park. Numerous citizens expressed the concern that locals do not know the names of parks or what they offer and recommended better promotion locally and to visitors.
Observations from the survey reveal that many of the requests by citizens already have plans in motion to satisfy these needs. It also showed that while there are many options for recreation, a need exists fro the proper geographic and activity diversity. For the county, it found that residents living more distantly from the city would benefit greatly from pocket parks. And perhaps of profound significance is the utility of the survey itself in applying for grants.
Gouge said that the results from the survey and public input show that the city and county residents have many of the same concerns and goals.
Mains said the next steps for the city will be to share the results with their Parks and Recreation Board, and to discuss over the coming months the direction in which the department should move.
“We will update our recreation plan, which we are ready to do anyhow, and from there continue to work with the county to determine the creation of these facilities,” said Mains.

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