As the state struggles with a shrunken budget, Georgians should recognize parks as financial assets, not monetary drains, Becky Kelley, a director with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said Thursday on a visit to Gainesville.
"I think we've in the past promoted the parks from just being outdoors, the conservation of nature and our cultural resources," said Kelley, director of the Division of Georgia Parks and Historic Sites.
"But the more we're realizing the challenges that we have as a state and as local communities, it's important to recognize the economic impact."
Kelly spoke at a WomenSource brown bag lunch titled "The Great Outdoors" with Hall County Parks and Leisure Services Director Greg Walker and Gainesville Parks and Recreation Director Melvin Cooper.
Kelley updated attendees on plans for the new Don Carter State Park that is under construction in North Hall and is expected to open in summer or fall 2012. The 1,040- acre park is projected to bring in $35 million annually for the local community, Kelley said. She said parks contribute to the economy not just by drawing in visitors but by improving the standard of living.
"Our parks are one of the quality of life indicators, like schools or good roads, that people use to make choices on where they live," she said.
"When they have high quality parks or recreation opportunities at the city, county or state level then they chose to reside here."
In his remarks, Walker praised the foresight of Hall County's previous leaders who ensured space be set aside for parks and trails.
"If you've been in other areas throughout the state of Georgia you realize sometimes you just get landlocked," he said.
Cooper told the group growth in Hall County makes maintaining parks even more vital at this time.
"It's very (important for) our community to balance growth and the sustainable quality of life we recently enjoy through the protection of parks and green space, the kind of legacy we want to leave our children and grandchildren to enjoy," he said.