Parks and Rec master plan seeks input
Area residents who avail themselves of Waynesville’s recreational facilities and programs have a chance to shape their respective futures — but only for a few more days.
“Bottom line, this is about what the public would like to have,” said Rhett Langston, director of Waynesville’s Parks and Recreation department. “We have ideas ourselves in Parks and Recreation, but the bottom line is, it has to come from the public.”
The Town of Waynesville establishes and sustains a network of athletic fields, parks and recreational facilities that play host to a variety of athletic, cultural, historic and recreational programming.
With a 2016-17 budget of $2.5 million, the Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for maintaining six different parks — Chestnut, East Street, Sulphur Springs, Hazelwood, Vance Street and Recreation Park — spread out over 29 acres. It also runs the Old Armory and Waynesville Recreation Center, where residents can enjoy such diverse activities as swimming, weightlifting, cornhole, clogging, karate and quilting.
“At the Waynesville Recreational Center, we typically have around 140,000 visits a year. I would say that’s a very conservative number,” Langston said, noting that a lot of people who simply stroll through the parks or relax outside them aren’t counted.
While such activities are clearly popular, putting together a master plan for the town’s recreational assets will allow the department to establish priorities and ensure that it can continue to offer activities that not only appeal to the residents of today, but also of tomorrow.
“We don’t want to take the plan and put it on the shelf and collect dust,” Langston said. “I think it’s always very good to know which direction we’re going to go. This is a 10-year plan, and for grant applications, this is the way you’re supposed to go about doing it.”
Applying for state and federal grants or loans can be an onerous process (see CANTON, p. 19), but grants are often the only way many municipalities can afford projects that would otherwise be too expensive to fund.
“When you apply for a grant, it’s kind of like building a court case,” Langston said. “You want to do things the proper way, which in this case is having a master plan and getting the feedback.”
Feedback from the public gives the department insight into who uses what services, and where; it also gives granting agencies a sense of the competency, thoroughness and vision of specific projects the town may wish to undertake.
“We started a survey not too long ago – online and hard copy — and that will be available to the general public until Sept. 30,” Langston said. “As of this moment today we have received over 400 responses, which is really good. The more the responses, the better, because that really establishes the bedrock of the entire master plan.”
Robust public input assures the department that it is following the wishes of those who use it most, and also demonstrates to grantors that such projects are not merely capricious, arbitrary ventures put forth by politicians to score points with voters, but instead are the result a desire to serve the public’s will.
Both the online survey and the public meetings are designed to gather specific information from the public — aside from some basic demographic information, the department hopes to get a better idea of how many times people have visited department facilities in the past 12 months (or why they haven’t), and what else they’d like to see, including BMX or skateboard parks, and rock climbing walls.
Central to these plans — figuratively and geographically — is a much talked-about greenway from the Waynesville Recreational Center to Lake Junaluska that would also one day unite disparate segments that exist in Canton, Clyde and Maggie Valley.
Greenways are often listed near the top of the public’s wish list in areas where jogging, road cycling or mountain biking frequently occurs; greenways are noted as economic drivers that attract outdoor enthusiasts and enhance the quality of life that woos entrepreneurial development.
Jackson County approved a $1.1 million greenway in 2013, financed in part with a grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund — exactly the type of grantor that wants to see a comprehensive plan as part of a grant application.
After some cost overruns, Jackson’s greenway opened in 2015 and has experienced increasing usage as residents and visitors have gotten used to having it around. The county hopes to see additional greenway mileage added in the future.
Regardless of whether or not Haywood County residents desire such a feature, Langston said he’d compile the results of the two public meetings and the online survey and then present them to Charlotte-based engineering and consulting firm Alfred Benesch & Company, which would be responsible for putting together the final plan.
“We’re hoping to have it ready by February,” he said. “We’ll first present it to an advisory commission, and if they approve the plan we’ll present it to the board of aldermen.”
Again, Langston stressed the importance of receiving as much input from the public as possible to ensure the quality of the final plan, which ultimately translates to continuing public satisfaction with the Parks and Recreation Department.
“Whatever the public would like to have,” he said, “we’ll do our best to get it.”
The final public meeting for the Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department’s 2016 Comprehensive Master Plan will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 3, at the Waynesville Recreation Center, 455 Vance Street; it is a “drop in” format, meaning that those interested can stop by at any time to learn more about the department and leave suggestions with the staff.
For those who can’t make it to the public meeting, an online survey on the Town of Waynesville’s website stands ready to collect input for the plan, but only until Friday, Sept. 30. To take the survey online, visit www.waynesvillenc.gov/online-survey.