Swain completes recreation master plan
Swain County commissioners recently approved a 10-year master plan for its parks and recreation programs and facilities, but it appears any major improvements will have to wait until more grant funding is available.
The county began going through the process of updating its master plan last year by conducting community surveys and setting priorities because it planned to apply for a PARTF (Parks and Recreation Trust Fund) grant from the state this year. However, it was discovered neither Bryson City nor the county had a clear deed of ownership on the recreation center because it was established back in the 1970s by a volunteer commission. With the town of Bryson City and the county trying to work that out, it was too late to submit a PARTF application to the state by the May 1 deadline.
Until the deed is worked out and given over to the county, County Manager Kevin King told commissioners, the county wouldn’t qualify for grant funds to improve existing facilities like the outdoor pool or the indoor recreation facilities. Since those were the highest-ranked projects on the surveys, commissioners decided to hold off on a PARTF application until next year.
PARTF can provide up to $500,000 for a single project with a 50 percent match from the recipient within three years. The county can use in-house labor costs as part of its match. With only about $450,000 dedicated to recreation in the county budget each year, Commissioner Danny Burns said securing grant funding was crucial to being able to expand and improve facilities and programs.
“We have to have a plan in place to go after grants,” he said.
About 28 percent of respondents in the survey ranked the pool as the No. 1 priority. The county has been making minimum repairs to the pool in the last few years to keep it open to the public, but it is in desperate need of major repairs. Back in 2016, it was reported that the concrete on the bottom of the pool was crumbling underneath the thick layer of vinyl lining. King estimated the total repairs to cost $750,000.
According to the survey, residents would like to see an expanded pool with a portion of it being indoors. They also want new bathroom facilities, expanded hours of operation, a diving board and more pool facilities for children.
Many residents have also made it clear to commissioners they want to see recreational programming expanded in Swain County for youth and senior citizens. While Swain County’s seniors have been traveling to Jackson County to participate in the annual Senior Games program, commissioners said they are supportive of holding a separate Senior Games in Swain if there is enough interest to justify it.
“We’re definitely going to be bringing back games to Swain County,” said Commissioner Ben Bushyhead.
The recreation master plan identifies several immediate facility/program needs — the pool, the indoor recreation center and the Swain Event Park. The county purchased property at Inspiration Park last year with plans to begin hosting a county fair and other community events. The master plan states that an event stage with electricity, lighting and a sound system is needed. Other useful amenities would include a walking and biking trail, playground, permanent bathroom facilities and parking site.
Expansion of the existing Indoor Recreation Center would include space for expanded services and the ability to offer new program resources. In looking at the expansion of the new facility, the county would have to look at purchasing adjacent property to make room for new basketball gym, weight room, shower and locker rooms and a multi-purpose room.
Looking three to five years out, the master plan identifies the need to create new park facilities, expand greenways and make more improvements to the Swain County Recreation Park fields.
To see the entire master plan, visit www.swaincountync.gov.
Swain County recently asked residents to rank their top priorities for recreation park improvements and 1,167 responded.
• Pool Expansion/Indoor/New/Repairs 28 percent
• Indoor Rec Center Expansion/Improve: 13 percent
• Park Expansion/Improvements: 11 percent
• Greenways/Walking Trails:6 percent
• Playground Expansion/Improve" 5 percent
• Bike Path Expansion/Development" 5 percent
• Soccer Field Expansion/Improve: 2 percent