Carter County Parks and Rec… Is now the time to establish a county department

Published 10:21 pm Friday, February 25, 2022

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
With millions of dollars to be spent on upcoming projects, some leaders in Carter County say it’s time to create a formal parks and recreation department to professionally manage growth.
Ken Gough, chairman of the volunteer Parks & Recreation Board, brought the issue before the county commission on Tuesday.
“While our strategy of working with community partners has been very successful … Is it time to establish a county Parks and  Rec Department?” Gough said.
“The Carter County Parks & Recreation Board recognizes in its Master Plan the eventual need for a Parks & Recreation Department. As the number of parks in the county grows, it becomes less and less practical for a volunteer board to manage them. The time that must be devoted and the expertise needed simply become too great. At some point a professional approach will be required.”
Gough shared with the commission some of the projects that has been completed by the board with limited funds from the commission and all the while creating more value for the county.
Gough shared a presentation of projects overseen by the volunteer board, including estimated values:
  • Tweetsie Trail – investment $10,000, estimated value, “priceless”
  • Community Survey – investment $1,324, estimated value, $20,000
  • CCP&R Website – $2,400
  • Birding – checklist $805; estimated value, $8,400
  • Birding – bird list $627; estimated value, $6,600
  • Birding – kid’s brochure Let’s Go Birding! $997; estimated value, $10,500.
  • Recreation Master Plan, $5,100; estimated value, $25,000+
  • Erik Anderson Community Park Stage, $3,000; estimated value, $75,000
  • EACP Playground – $3,000; estimated value, $25,000
  • Roan Mountain – Appalachian Trail Community Designation Celebration, $1,000
  • EACP Flood repair, $6,714
  • Overmountain Victory Trail Sec. 1 Master Plan, $5,000
  • Green Bridge Landing Park – $12,056; estimated value, $200,000+
  • Happy Trails Park – $11,819; estimated value, $50,000
  • Herschel Julian Landing improvements – $800; estimated value, $4,000
  • Walnut Mountain Trailhead – $2,000; estimated value, $15,000
  • EACP Large Picnic Pavilion refurbishment – $7,700; estimated value, $12,000
  • Twin Springs Recreation Area refurbishment – $3,000; estimated value, $15,000
Gough said several multi-million dollar projects currently underway will need a department for fiscal management, including setting budgets and managing funds throughout the project timeline.
Those ongoing projects include:
  • Gap Creek Park – invested to date, $138,797; remaining budget required to complete, $1.1 million
  • Fish Springs Park – invested to date, $10,000; remaining budget is undetermined at this time.
  • Tunnel Trail Park/Tweetsie Trail Extension, invested to date, $180; remaining budget required to complete, $3.5 million to $4.5 million
  • Watershed Trails Mountain Bike Park (w/Elizabethon) – invested to date, $79,000; remaining budget required to complete, $2.1 million
Gough told the commission that the mission of the existing board is to provide parks and recreational opportunities for the people of Carter County and to visitors.
“Put simply, we don’t do tourism; that’s for others,” said Gough. “Our focus is on the county’s residents, and thus on small ‘pocket parks’ and events that serve our local communities. The proposed Tweetsie Trail expansion is the exception to the rule because we believe that, along with the expansion of the Watershed Trails mountain bike park, it presents us with an extraordinary opportunity for economic development too good to pass up.
“The board is the only organization in the county government in a position to get it started. But once started, it will take professional management, along with the support of the whole region, to bring it to completion.”
Mayor Patty Woodby sees the need for the department. “The time has come for Carter County to have an employee dedicated Parks and Recreation,” she said.
“When the county first created the Parks & Recreation Board, there was only one community park in the county, and it was maintained by members of the Roan Mountain Recreation Foundation,” said Woodby, who did not attend the commission meeting. “In the last few years, the Carter County Commission has begun investing in parks and outdoor recreation opportunities for our residents. Now, in addition to the Erik Anderson Community Park in Roan Mountain, we have the Green Bridge Landing Park along the Doe River in Hampton.
“We are working to develop the Gap Creek Park on the west end of the county. We are also working on a major project to extend the Tweetsie Trail from Elizabethton to link up with the Hampton Watershed Trails. These are multi-million-dollar projects that represent an opportunity for growth in Carter County as tourism and outdoor recreation are major drivers for economic development.
“The Parks and Recreation Board has continued to take on these daunting projects with commission backing, and while there are wonderful volunteers involved, these projects are becoming too much to demand of volunteers. It is unfair to task volunteers with all the responsibilities of multi-million-dollar projects.”
Woodby said the county needs an employee who can help solve some of the issues which cause delays such as difficulty in acquiring purchase orders and having to work around volunteers’ schedules.
“This will also help to increase accountability and transparency for these projects to ensure our citizens that we are being good stewards of taxpayer money,” Woodby said. “I fully support the Parks and Recreation Board in their request to create a county employee position for Parks and Recreation management.”
Brad Johnson, 3rd District commissioner, agreed with Woodby. “This is one of many pieces in the development of attracting tourism to our county.
“It’s going to take careful planning which is being addressed among commissioners, committees, and the mayor,” said Johnson. “It is my hope that the county can obtain state and federal grants to help. If we don’t obtain grants then the process will be slow but will mature.”
Johnson said much groundwork must be done before the department could be created. He said commission members have been working with established parks and recreation departments for guidance and input. The commission must decide key factors — “discussion has to be made if we can make it a division of an established department or its own” — and explore whether a joint venture with another agency is feasible or preferred, he said.
“I feel comfortable thinking that during this budget cycle that this will be seriously addressed, if not sooner. The way grants are at present time, it’s been feast or famine.”
Aaron Frazier, 7th District commissioner and member of the Parks and Rec Board, said he sees this position as a piece of the larger puzzle.
“Parks and Rec is one part, but the county has another need and that is economic development,” said Frazier. “Considering that the majority of the economic development side is going to be geared towards recreational/tourist type activities, then it makes a good fit here.”

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