Public demand will dictate where to place new parks, or expand or improve existing facilities. Yet, even with support of residents, tough decisions must be made and not every recreation plan will come to fruition, said county Parks and Recreation Department Director Jeff Carpenter.
“It has to be what we can afford to do,” Carpenter said. “You’ve got to come up with a way to fund it.”
Currently, the county is holding a series of public input sessions on recreation and soliciting input via online surveys. About 600 residents had responded to the online survey as of Thanksgiving since it launched Nov. 8. The county will continue polling residents until Dec. 12 with the survey, in addition to a series of community meetings.
The last time the county sought input for its parks and recreation master plan was years ago, and its a bit overdue. Carpenter said state recreation experts advise updating the parks and recreation plan every five years — Jackson County is in its seventh.
The input helps ensure the county is responsive to its residents’ wants and desires as they evolve over time.
“We need to gather input from the public to keep us going in a direction the public wants,” Carpenter said. “Some things change.”
The changing taste of the public becomes apparent when looking at recent trends in the field of parks and recreation. For example, until recently, Frisbee golf and skate parks weren’t even on the radar in Jackson County.
So far, Carpenter said much of the feedback has been centered around creating more open spaces, sports fields, a county greenway and a public indoor pool. Specific results from the survey will not be released until later next month, when the county has stopped collecting data.
Meanwhile, the county is taking inventory of existing recreation facilities and parks for a type of status report. The information will be used to update a master plan the county already has.
In unison with launching a new master plan, county commissioners have reconstituted the parks and recreation advisory board, which had gone dormant. Nine county residents selected from varying geographic locations and areas of interest sit on the committee.
One of those advisory board members, Kyle Clayton, 29, who lives in Sylva, said he likes the idea of a greenway traversing the county along the Tuckasegee River. He said he and his wife walk their dog in downtown Sylva but would love to have another option to easily get out of town.
The greenway project is one that has been in the making for nearly a decade and has the goal of connecting Sylva to Cullowhee, via a path along the Tuckasegee River.
He’d also like county residents to have access to an indoor pool.
“I’d love to see an Olympic-sized, indoor swimming pool,” he said. “I don’t know if I’d personally go swim laps every morning, but it would be great to have.”
An indoor pool was one of top requests from the public in a 2011 survey of about 1,000 respondents conducted by the health department, recalled Anna Lippard, another appointee to the recreation advisory board.
As an educator for the county health Department, Lippard said she personally would like to see the expansion of community gardening in the county. From a health standpoint, more community gardens in the community is a win-win because of the exercise involved in maintaining a garden as well as the nutrition benefits of the harvest.
She hopes county recreational space will include space for gardens in the future and believes there shouldn’t be any difficulty making use of that space.
“What I’ve learned from other communities is that people are lined up, and there’s usually a waiting list to get a plot at a community garden,” Lippard said.
She added that one thing the county could do to expand recreation opportunities without a huge monetary investment is to reach out to form partnerships with the schools, university or churches to gain access to their facilities.
But, it all starts with a planning process. Public input could influence big ticket projects for years to come.
Since its last input session, the county has started and completed several notable projects, including the expansion of the recreation center in Cullowhee and construction of a new one in Cashiers, as well as the repair of tennis courts in Mark Watson park and a property purchase to grow the East LaPorte River Access Park.
Also during that time, the county created Canada Park to serve the isolated Little Canada community. Carpenter said that project came about after residents from the area pointed out that they had to travel 21 miles to the nearest playground.
But, if they hadn’t spoke up, Carpenters said the project may not have ever been considered.
“We’ve got to have a road map,” Carpenter said.
Want to weigh in?
Jackson County is soliciting community input for a new master parks and recreation plan. Offer up your recreation wish list at one of the upcoming public meetings or by taking an online survey.
• 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at the Smoky Mountain Elementary School
• 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Jackson County Recreation Center
• 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10, at the Cashiers Library Meeting Room
The survey can be accessed through www.surveymonkey.com.
Mark Watson Park — 10 acres with two softball fields, tennis courts, picnic shelter, basketball courts, walking area and dog run
Jackson County Recreation Park — 26 acre with recreation center, four soccer and two softball fields, walking area, basketball court, disc golf course, picnic areas, playgrounds and fishing piers
Fairview Youth Complex — 10 acres with three baseball fields and school soccer, baseball and softball fields
East Laporte River Park — eight acres with river access, picnic shelter and sand volleyball
Judaculla Rock — one-acre Historical site
Canada Community Park — five acres with picnic shelter, walking trail and playground
Cashiers Community Park —10 acres with recreation center, two baseball fields, swimming pool, playground and walking trail
Ralph J. Andrews Campground — 78 acres with campground located on Lake Glenville