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Haywood recreation plan approved

This word cloud derived from a survey represents citizen sentiment on what Haywood County needs more of, and what it doesn’t need. Haywood County photo This word cloud derived from a survey represents citizen sentiment on what Haywood County needs more of, and what it doesn’t need. Haywood County photo

Haywood County is known for its outdoor recreational opportunities that drive both tourism and the local economy. Now, with the county’s approval of a 236-page recreation master plan last week, commissioners are seeking to stay ahead of the competition in the outdoor recreation game.

“We are really at the forefront of what this movement is now,” said David Francis, Haywood County’s community development director.

Francis told commissioners on April 3 that he recalled a work session several years ago when the county prioritized outdoor recreation, which has since become a booming industry, but the county’s existing master plan was so old that it prevented the county from going after grant funding. The new plan solves that problem. 

“That will position the county to apply for PARTF (North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grants) and other grants to help support the cost of the proposed facility additions and staffing that the new plan put forward,” said Kevin FitzGerald, chair of the Haywood County Recreation Advisory Board. 

The comprehensive recreation master plan, which remains in effect through 2032,  was created after conducting an inventory of the county’s existing park facilities, consulting county staff about needs and weighing public input. Using state and national standards to support recommendations made in the plan, the county now has a clear picture of what it has, and what it needs. 

What it has, is just two parks – Allens Creek, located south of Waynesville, and Glance Street Park in Clyde. Together, they total less than 10 acres. By comparison, the Town of Waynesville owns and/or maintains nine parks, the Town of Maggie Valley eight, the Town of Canton five and the Town of Clyde one. 

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The survey reached more than 1,600 people, 92% of whom are Haywood County residents. The largest age group was 35 to 44, and 65% of them do not live within a 10-minute walk of a park or leisure facility. 

That’s a problem, at least for a partnership of nonprofits that have joined together to promote something called the “10-minute walk movement,” which aims to provide every American access to a park or green space within a 10-minute walk from home by 2050. 

By far, the majority of survey respondents cited a desire for additional trails and greenways. Almost 94% said they’d support additional greenways or trails that would connect to destinations located both in and out of Haywood County. 

Other major goals of the plan include bolstering ADA compliance, keeping up design and maintenance of existing recreational space, more facilities and trails for bicycles, and the possibility of a development ordinance that would fund greenway land acquisition and construction. 

Based on the current population of Haywood County, as well as standards offered by report author McGill Associates, major expansion of recreational amenities is needed to efficiently serve the county’s 61,000 residents – everything from softball fields to fishing spots. As the population grows to 67,000 near the end of the plan’s useful life, those needs will grow, too. 

In the short term, the plan recommends a slew of improvements to Allens Creek Park, including fitness stations, boulder climbing and pickleball courts. A master plan is also recommended for Glance Street Park. 

The long-term plan recommends building out Glance Street Park, as well as the design and construction of what’s called a “district park,” which would need to be between 75 and 200 acres. 

Commissioner Brandon Rogers, who serves on the Haywood County Recreation Advisory Board, said he was pleased the county could now move forward. 

“It’s something that probably should have been done before now to be quite frank,” Rogers said. “It’s been since 2006 that we’ve had a master plan. I’m excited that we’ve been able to get this far and find out what the community wants, and as we discussed it’s outdoor recreation.”

Recommendations made in the plan are just that – recommendations. Any of the suggested projects, improvements or acquisitions would require commissioner approval. 

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