Based heavily on public input, the master plan compiles a to-do list of recreation priorities for the county. Topping the list are new parks in the Whittier and Savannah communities, which have gotten little investment from the county in the way of recreation.
“We really need a park in that area real bad,” said Jackson County Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Carpenter. “That’s probably one of our number one goals.”
The county’s recreation master plan is a year in the making. The last master plan was done in 2005. The new plan compiles survey responses from residents, input from the county’s Recreation and Parks Advisory Board and the county Planning Department.
The result is a roadmap for the future of Jackson County recreation and a report on what county residents want — and don’t particularly want. The master plan was approved by county commissioners at their last meeting, though it was a largely symbolic vote, since none of the items on the to-do list are funded.
An indoor swimming pool tops the list of what the public wants, mirroring a recreation survey in 2005.
“That was the number one eight or nine years ago, and it’s still there,” said Carpenter.
The indoor pool swept the public survey conducted for the master plan. More people wanted an indoor pool — and were willing to fund it — than any other recreation amenity. The pool won more than 550 votes, an overwhelming majority of the 600 or who responded to the survey question.
Because of such strong public support, the new recreation master plan calls for a feasibility study of building an indoor pool and water park.
Greenways and Trail
Greenways, walking paths and trails were a popular second in the public surveys behind pools. The county is already starting work on the first section of its greenway along the Tuckasegee River.
And any trip to the Jackson County Recreation Center in Cullowhee will confirm that the outdoor walking path is the place to be. All day, it stays busy with people out walking their dogs or taking a stroll.
Seasonal residents Sandi and Joe Gladdin, who live in Webster, walk the track each day.
“It’s just so pretty out here in the park,” Sandi said. “We just like to be out in the fresh air.”
Ball sports versus other recreation
Traditional team sports like basketball, softball, soccer, and so on didn’t fare so well in the public recreation survey. More athletic fields had less support than developing other amenities like fishing spots, parks, a nature center and community gardens.
“On the adult level, traditional sports are declining,” said Bryan Cagle, facility manager of the Jackson Recreation Center, adding, however, that they’re still popular among the youth.
At a series of community meetings held to seek input for the master plan last year, attendees supported that theory. Surveys taken at those meetings showed kayaking and canoeing were the most popular recreational activities in the county, with yoga and indoor fitness close behind.
Though, Carpenter advised those rankings be taken with a grain of salt because they were administered during public meetings that a large Western Carolina University class attended, which may have skewed the results.
However, Carpenter, who will be retiring in the coming week after more than three decades working for the county, acknowledged that he’s been witness to an ever-evolving recreation landscape. When he first started in Parks Department in the 1980s, yoga and organized fitness classes were hardly a blip on the radar.
“We had maybe one aerobics class and a chair fitness class,” Carpenter said. “Other than that, that’s about it.”
Now, the Cullowhee and Cashiers recreation centers have more than 30 fitness classes per week, from Senior Zumba to Little People Yoga. Last month, more than 2,000 county residents participated in them.
A park for Whittier
Most recreation amenities are clustered in Sylva, Cullowhee and Cashiers, the major population centers. Meanwhile, residents in more rural Whittier and Savannah are left with little in the way of local park space. Despite their location nearby to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Carpenter said that large, federal forests and national parks don’t provide the same opportunities as a small community park.
“People want things close to their community, where they can go out and play and read a book and go out and walk their dogs,” Carpenter said.
Furthermore, as Jackson County becomes more populated, Carpenter said parks spaced around the county will be increasingly important. But even though parks in the Qualla area are top priorities in the Parks Department master plan, the idea didn’t score high with other Jackson County residents on the research surveys.
In fact, purchasing land for parks in the Whittier and Qualla area was at the very bottom of the list of items residents said they would support funding. Purchasing county park land in those areas ranked second to last when survey respondents were asked to vote on potential recreation projects in terms of importance, barely beating out skate parks.
The Jackson County Recreation and Parks Department recently finished its long-range recreation plan and short list of priority projects for coming years.
1. Creating neighborhood parks in the Savannah and Whittier communities.
2. Drafting a plan for a river park in Dillsboro.
3. Conducting a feasibility study for an indoor pool.
4. New greenways and multi-use paths connecting parks, facilities and nature areas.
5. Acquiring two multi-use sport fields and an indoor recreation facility.
6. Developing the South Painter Community Park gardens and nature trail.
Recreation wish list
A survey of more than 600 Jackson County residents asked them to weigh in on what new recreation amenities they wanted to see. Here are the six most popular:
• Indoor swimming pools and water parks — 555 votes
• Walking and biking trails — 528 votes
• Nature center and trails — 490 votes
• Picnic facilities and shelters — 336 votes
• Community gardens — 333 votes
• Playgrounds — 323 votes
Recreation hit list
Some forms of recreation didn’t fair well. These got the least amount of support in a public recreation survey. More people said “no” than “yes” to expanding recreation in these areas. Below are the number of yeses out of more than 600 who answered the survey question.
• Youth soccer — 214 votes
• Outdoor tennis — 205 votes
• Youth softball/baseball — 184 votes
• Raquetball courts — 181 votes
• Disc golf — 165 votes
• Youth football fields — 158 votes
• Golf courses — 143 votes
• Equestrian trails — 130 votes
• Adult softball fields — 99 votes