Grant propels Waynesville skate park, but the price tag is still daunting

Ten-year-old Waynesville resident Zeb Powell has exclusive, 24-7 access to a skate park in town — it’s in his driveway.

Powell got hold of a half-pipe, rails and multiple ramps when the indoor BP Skate Park closed down last fall. But as it turns out, having a park to yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

“He loves doing it with other people,” said his mother, Val Powell. “By himself, it’s just not as much fun.”

Zeb is one of many skateboarders in Waynesville waiting for the long-promised public skate park on Vance Street, near the Waynesville Recreation Center.

For now, skaters still have to deal with a town ban on skateboards on sidewalks and most town streets. Violators face a $50 fine and the possibility of having their boards confiscated.

The proposed fenced-in outdoor park will cost somewhere between $275,000 to $325,000 to construct. So far, the town has lined up $120,000 to devote to the project.

Included in that total is a $60,000 state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant Waynesville recently received, plus a $20,000 grant from the Waynesville Kiwanis Club. The rest comes from town funds.

With the idea of a skate park stalled for more than a decade, the state grant eluded the town when it first applied in 2009. To boost its chances of winning the coveted grant in the next cycle, the town dipped into its own coffers to fund a design plan for the park — hoping to prove it was dedicated to the idea. The plan worked.

Waynesville hired California firm Spohn Ranch Skateparks to lead the project earlier this year. In March, the firm held a public input meeting with local skaters to help shape the look of the park. The firm will present three potential designs at an online meeting next week.

Recreation Director Rhett Langston says he sees a parallel between skate parks and golf courses. Each should have its own unique character and offer different elements from those facilities nearby. With skate parks relatively close in Asheville and Hendersonville, Waynesville’s recreation department wants to offer something else with its park.

“We want ours to be as nice but also different,” Langston said. “So all skaters can go from one location to another.”

Right now, Waynesville parent Joe Moore said he’ll be thrilled to see any kind of skate park.

“I wish there was more money to make it happen immediately,” Moore said. “The wheels of bureaucracy always move too slow.”

Moore wholly supports the project, though, and is happy the park will have no entry fee. He says he’s not worried about the park being unsupervised by town staff.

“Most parents are not going to drop off their 7- to 12-year-old to skateboard and run errands,” said Moore.

Though Moore originally preferred an indoor park, he would now love to see an outdoor facility with a roof overhead to protect skaters like his son Dylan from wet and snowy weather. He also suggests wooden ramps rather than those made of concrete.

“Skateboarders like to see things change,” said Moore. “Concrete, once it’s poured, it’s always going to stay the same.”

Most skaters who attended the first public meeting supported a hybrid of a bowl and a street park with ramps, rails, stairs and more, Langston said.

Langston, who has been instrumental in moving the skate park forward, was himself a skater in his youth. But that was before the rise of skate parks nationwide.

“We would just fly down the hill in our neighborhood,” said Langston. “We just made do with what we had.”

 

Donate

The Waynesville Recreation Department is selling bricks with personalized messages for a walkway leading up to the park. So far, skaters have raised about $3,000.

Those interested in purchasing one brick for $50 or two for $75, making a donation, or volunteering should contact Rhett Langston at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.456.2030.

The case for ball and bat

Like many of the stakeholders in the argument, county commission chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick wishes the county could build enough fields for both sports. He played baseball in college, and his daughter is currently a soccer player.

But if he has to pick, Kirkpatrick believes the baseball and softball community is next in line for an upgrade, citing the county’s recreation master plan showing a greater deficit of softball fields than soccer fields.

The county’s Allens Creek park — constructed nine years ago — elicited a similar debate between soccer and softball. Ultimately, it was designed as purely a soccer park since the need for soccer fields was greater at the time. It has three playing areas, although none are regulation size required for hosting tournaments.

Baseball/softball advocates argue it is their turn now. The county doesn’t operate any baseball or softball fields. Instead teams rely on private fields, town fields and school fields available for teams.

“The main thing that I see is the lack of county-owned baseball fields, but that’s why I also support a multi-use field out there,” said Kirkpatrick, who is also a member of the recreation board. “It’s just hard to get a full-sized soccer field or a full-sized baseball field in the mountains.”

Kenny Mull, assistant commissioner of Mountaineer Little League, is in the same boat as Kirkpatrick, having also been parent of soccer players. But he says the opportunity of having a county-owned baseball/softball facility has been a long time coming.

“I don’t have anything against soccer, but I’ve been with the Little League for 35 years,” Mull said. “It is our time, I think.”

For nearly the entire existence of Mountaineer Little League’s boy’s baseball and girls’ softball programs, games and tournaments have been hosted on fields owned by private civic organizations like the Elks and the American Legion.

The result has been that Mull and other Little League administrators have had to undertake field maintenance on their own, adding a huge amount of cost and labor to the league’s operations.

“It’s really something we need badly and we’ve never had the opportunity to get,” Mull said. “We’ve never even had the chance to push for it until now.”

What Mull is pushing for is a county-owned and maintained tournament caliber baseball/softball complex for the more than 500 boys and girls ages 8 to 16 in the Mountaineer Little League system.

The plan they favor calls for a “wagon wheel” four-plex field setup that would accommodate the new Little League field specifications. As the game has developed, the regulation distance for fences has been moved from the old distance of 200 feet to 225 feet.

Mull said a “wagon wheel” field setup at Jonathan Creek could allow the Little League to hold regional tournaments with four games going simultaneously. The facility could also be a home for adult softball tournaments, though softball fields require 300-foot fences.

“If you had a field like that, you could host Little League tournaments and traveling tournaments any weekend you wanted to,” Mull said.

Mull explained that the Mountaineer Little League currently hosts tournaments among a variety of locations, making it hard for out-of-town visitors to enjoy the experience because they are rushing from one site to another.

He sees the potential for a centralized tournament complex as a revenue boost for the county.

“It’s a great moneymaker for the county, because it brings people into the hotels and restaurants and everything,” Mull said. “It’d be a really good thing. I hope it works out.”

Lee Starnes, past president of Mountaineer Little League, has attended the planning meetings and looked at the proposals. For Starnes, the proposed baseball/softball complex would provide much-needed practice space and solve a longstanding problem.

“Because of our location in the mountains, we simply don’t have the available space and what is available is expensive,” Starnes said.

Like Kirkpatrick, Starnes said he wished the county could build both tournament soccer and softball facilities, but he knows the county budget won’t allow it.

“I’m in for all of it,” Starnes said. “It’s for the kids, and whatever we can do for the kids is great.”

The case for soccer

Soccer coach Nathan Trout recalled, with a tinge of jealousy, the four “unbelievable” sports parks in his Florida hometown, including six soccer fields.

“It’s almost embarrassing for the community to not have nice facilities for their kids,” said Trout. “I’m just surprised that there’s not a piece of land where they can build it all.”

Trout said he doesn’t understand why the county can’t accommodate athletes from multiple sports in one convenient location.

Trout, who coaches a traveling girls’ team for Carolina Mountain Soccer Club, says he’s had trouble convincing other teams to come to Haywood County.

“Here, we’re so limited,” said Trout. “Obviously, baseball is facing the same problem.”

Currently, the county has no regulation-size soccer fields, and the facilities that are around are either not well-maintained or not publicly available after hours. None of them are striped for soccer, according to soccer coach Geoff Chitea.

Not infrequently, slack mowing schedules allow grass to grow too high for play, while fields remain wet long after rainfall.

Some field owners bar access after hours due to potential liability issues, and others drag the goals off the field to specifically discourage soccer games after hours.

“They don’t want the grass messed up,” said Chitea, who likened playing soccer without goals to playing basketball without a backboard.

Both Trout and Chitea argue that developing soccer fields at the Jonathan Creek Park would benefit more people than the community realizes.

Trout estimates that 600 kids play soccer in Haywood County alone, while Chitea emphasized that adults like to play casual games all throughout the year. On most evenings and weekends, about 15 to 20 people regularly show up to play pick-up games of soccer.

“We’ve had nights during the summer where our numbers swell up to 30 people,” said Chitea.

While football and baseball enthusiasts pack up whenever their season ends, Chitea says there’s really no such thing as a soccer season.

“You see soccer players out on those fields all year long whenever the weather’s nice,” said Chitea.

Trout and Chitea said they are disappointed with the three options presented by the recreation board at the last meeting.

“Obviously, soccer really took a backstage to baseball/softball,” said Chitea. “They all look like we built a baseball facility, not a community park.”

Chitea says the multipurpose field seems more like an afterthought, with restrooms situated much closer to the baseball fields in all three options. Kids who play anything other than baseball or softball will face a much longer trek to the bathrooms.

Chitea says he does appreciate the walking trails at the park, and hopes that the multipurpose field will at least be Astroturf to allow for soccer play year-round.

Meanwhile, Trout would like to see the Haywood County community readjust its focus. Citizens placed too much stress on the park’s ability to drive revenue at the first public meeting, Trout said.

Rather than chasing athletes from other towns, the county’s primary concern should be taking care of the youth at home.

“I think there’s too much focus on worrying about tournaments and driving revenue, rather than taking care of the kids and the community that presently play here,” said Trout.

A tale of two sports at new Jonathan Creek Park

It’s not often that soccer players go head-to-head with softball and baseball athletes.

But whenever Haywood County decides to build a new recreation park, they may do just that.

A competitive spirit creeps from the field into public meetings, as athletes from the same sport band together to make the case for a facility that will best meet their needs.

In recent years, the debate has fostered a rivalry between soccer lovers and those passionate about baseball and softball. Now that the county has begun design work on a new park in Jonathan Creek, the same dialogue has resurfaced.

Of course, the county recreation board would love to satisfy athletes from all sports with pristine new fields, but lack of available funding demands tough choices.

So far, Haywood’s recreation board has collected ample citizen input to assist them in the decision-making process. The board has put out two online surveys and held two public meetings. An impressive crowd of almost 60 people piled in to have their say at both meetings.

For this round, the baseball/softball folks have earned a clear upper hand, despite soccer players’ success in skewing the online survey results toward developing a soccer field.

The county recreation board has opted for a mix of uses at the Jonathan Creek park with a heavy emphasis on baseball and softball. The three potential design concepts presented at the last public meeting each include four baseball fields and one “multipurpose” field.

Two sets of plans for the park have emerged as frontrunners. One plan entails four softball fields and a large multipurpose artificial turf field that could be adapted as a full-size soccer field. The other also has four softball fields clustered centrally as a single complex, but leaves less space for the multi-use field, which is smaller.

The board’s decision was heavily guided by a recreation master plan developed by the county in 2007. The plan demonstrates a clear need for more facilities for all three sports, but a greater deficit of softball and baseball fields than for soccer.

“The master plan is just clear cut, right there,” said Claire Carleton, Haywood County recreation director. “Since we don’t have any baseball/softball fields, that’s where the most urgent needs lies.”

According to the study, the county needs seven more baseball fields and seven softball fields by 2027. In comparison, there will be a deficit of only two soccer fields and two multipurpose fields that same year.

On the other hand, soccer fields are cheaper to develop than baseball and softball fields. Building a soccer field with a goal on each end is a less complicated proposition than developing baseball and softball fields with dugouts, fencing and score boxes.

On Tuesday, April 6, the recreation board will consider which of the three plans to adopt. Each side continues to make their case, and one thing is clear: the debate is far from over in Haywood County.

Developing a moneymaker

Money is not trailing far behind sports in the minds of citizens enthused by the new park.

Residents overwhelmingly favor developing a sports park that produces revenue by ushering traveling teams to the region’s hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Investing in a high-quality sports complex does have potential to bring serious cash flow into the county, according to Steve Fritts, landscape architect with Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon.

His firm, which is designing the Jonathan Creek Park, recently completed a tournament-size softball complex in Chattanooga. On its opening weekend, 250 teams descended on the town to utilize the $11 million, eight-field complex.

Meanwhile, the vision for a park in Jonathan Creek is currently limited to 22 acres of space. Fritts has recommended expanding the park to at least 40 acres in the future.

A dearth of funding is the major obstacle in creating a larger park, however. Haywood County commissioners have already dropped $1 million to purchase the park property, while the Town of Maggie Valley also chipped in $115,000 toward the property purchase.

In addition, the recreation board has found it difficult to commit the entire park to just one sport. It turned down the firm’s proposal for developing five baseball fields — even though that would likely prove more lucrative in attracting tournaments.

Recreation Director Claire Carleton said the board shied away from narrowing the scope of the park to ensure that the community facility offers something for everyone.

The three concepts the board chose included not only baseball/softball fields and a multipurpose field, but also a playground, an accessible fishing pier, a greenway trail, a water play area, a loop trail with fitness stations, and picnic shelters.

While a larger park would improve prospects of hosting tournaments, Carleton is pleased with the progress on the park as is.

“This is an excellent start for the county,” said Carleton.

Despite a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 6, the board may not vote on adopting a specific plan just yet. County Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick, who sits on the recreation board, pointed out that the reality of a new recreation facility is still a long way away.

“The fact of the matter is this is a plan to utilize that property but not necessarily the exact plan that will be used at the time of construction,” Kirkpatrick said.

Baseball and soccer battle for space at new Haywood rec park

Haywood County residents have another chance to steer plans for a park in Jonathan Creek at a public meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 25.

The meeting will be held at the County Office building on Russ Avenue past K-Mart, formerly known as the MARC building.

The design firm will present up to three conceptual master plans for the park, based on input from the first public meeting held March 4 and an online survey.

The first meeting drew a crowd of about 45 people, with most people supporting baseball/softball fields, a soccer field, or fitness trails at the park.

Residents also favored developing a handicapped fishing facility, batting cages, and a fit course. They hoped to see the park maximize revenue potential and gear recreation to locals.

Meanwhile, soccer fans mobilized support to dominate an online survey posted online from March 5 to 22. About 75 people completed the survey, with 21 respondents advocating for soccer fields and opposing baseball/softball fields.

Claire Carleton, Haywood’s recreation director, said the public meeting was civil even though attendees had clashing interests there as well.

“It’s not a conflict,” said Carleton, “Everyone is going after their passion, whether it be baseball or softball.”

Many who completed the online survey said they liked the idea of mixing different uses, though they did not provide a clear direction for what should be included in that mix.

Haywood County commissioners purchased the 22-acre property for $1 million in 2007. In February, they hired the design firm of Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon Inc. to develop a master plan.

Each of the workshops will build on the information gathered from the previous meeting. After receiving input at Thursday’s public meeting, the firm will develop a draft master plan and determine costs.

A third and final public workshop will be held on Tuesday, April 27, at Maggie Valley Town Hall.

The firm hopes to present the final master plan to the county board of commissioners on Monday, May 17.

For more information, contact Haywood County Recreation and Parks at 828.452.6789.

Jonathan Creek park moves closer to reality

Haywood County commissioners decided Monday to move forward with the design phase for a proposed public park and sports field in Jonathan Creek.

The county’s Recreation and Parks Department is accepting conceptual proposals from local consultants until Dec. 30.

Though the public park is a recreational priority, the recession has pushed the project to the backburner.

“This has always been one of our front projects,” said Claire Carleton, recreation director for Haywood. “But [we realize] that this is not the time to ask for additional county funding.”

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick is looking forward to making progress on the park.

“We really need to proceed with a plan if we’re going to do anything with this in the future,” said Kirkpatrick. “The property is just sitting there.”

The 2007 comprehensive master plan calls for lighted baseball/softball fields, picnic facilities, creek access, a multipurpose field and sustainable design concepts at the new park.

The planning and design stage, which will include public input, is expected to take four to six months.

As of now, about $15,250 has been set aside for the planning process. Most will be funded with tourism revenue, with about $10,000 coming from lodging taxes collected in Maggie Valley and Waynesville.

Much public money has already been invested in the proposed park since 2007.

The county dropped $1 million on the 22-acre parcel in the midst of a heated bidding war that year. Soon after the county successfully bought the property, it became entangled in a lawsuit with a farmer who argued the property owner, Lucius Jones, had promised the land would be signed over to him upon Jones’ death.

The county did not settle the case until November 2008, and since then it has been leasing the property to the very same farmer.

Recreation plan attracts mostly supporters to bond hearing

A public hearing Monday on a $64 million bond for various construction projects in Macon County attracted relatively few naysayers.

Voters in Macon will get to weigh in on the slate of construction projects in a countywide vote on Nov. 6. Each component of the bond package will be a separate item on the ballot. The biggest share of bond money is for new schools. Other components include recreation, a new library in Highlands, a new senior center, and a new community college building.

Library, senior complex win budget approval

Jackson County commissioners whittled down three construction projects on their wish list to two last week.

Haywood bids for recreation tract in Jonathan Creek

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Haywood County officials are jumping at the chance to purchase 22 acres of land for recreational space that will help make the county’s master recreation plan a reality.

Recreation could be big winner in TDA shuffle

The tax on overnight lodging in Haywood County could be increased next year pending approval by the state legislature.

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