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Editorial: You have a chance to affect future of parks program
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Josh Rhodes and Angie Standridge walk along the paved trail at Laurel Park in Gainesville, on Saturday, March 10, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

It is a scenario that is repeated often in growing communities.

Some government entity – county, city, schools – embarks on a project that is going to take a major outlay of cash, and from those who think it’s a bad idea comes the plaintiff complaint that “No one asked the public what they wanted!” or “Why didn’t stakeholders have any input?”

Perhaps to a lesser extent, the same reaction comes when budgets are approved, or rezoning requests; when long-term program strategies are implemented; when operational priorities are changed.

“Why weren’t we asked?” is often the public outcry.

Except in many cases, the public is often asked for opinions on such government actions, and far too few people bother to offer one.

Currently, the county is in the process of preparing a 10-year master plan for its Parks and Leisure Department, and the public is welcome to weigh in with opinions on what needs to be done in the field of public recreation in the future.

The existence of a first class system of parks and public recreational facilities generally carries a lot of weight in those sometimes nebulous discussions of what contributes to “qualify of life” in a community. Even those who do not actively use such facilities benefit from the preservation of greenspace and natural beauty that is part of any progressive parks program.

Like so many aspects of suburban living, modern parks programs bear little resemblance to what was expected in decades past.

Once upon a time in the not-so-distant past, mention of building a park carried with it connotations of ballfields, concessions stands, a parking lot and maybe a playground on an adjacent grassy area. But modern parks programs have moved beyond just serving the needs of youth athletic programs to include a plethora of options for both participatory and passive park uses.

Today, a park is just as likely to have a pickle ball court, splash pad or skateboard pipe as it is a softball field. What the parks of tomorrow will include depend on some extent to the input the county receives as it goes through the master planning process.

Two of the major considerations in long-term park planning involve what amenities need to be offered, and where parks should be located to meet future needs. 

South Hall is where most of the residential growth is taking place now. But where will the need be a decade from now? That’s what planners have to consider.

Another reality of park planning is that there has to be some geographic diversity to secure voter support for spending. Put too much in one area of the county, and run the risk of alienating taxpayers elsewhere who do not believe park programs include them.

Will western Hall see enough residential growth in a decade to warrant special attention? Or the northeastern part of the county? Demographically speaking, where are youth athletics likely to grow the fastest? Are there areas of natural beauty that begged to be preserved for future generations?

The process from concept to completion for park projects can be a long one. If significant amounts of acreage are needed, property needs to be acquired in advance of booming population growth, or it becomes either unavailable or too expensive.

Government officials have to look into their crystal ball and realize that the 150-acre tract with a meandering stream and old growth woodlands that seems far removed from people today may well be in the center of a major residential area a decade from now, justifying its purchase now for recreational uses by future generations.

The county’s park program today has nearly 2,000 acres under its control, with 25 parks and three community centers. But if it doesn’t plan now for growth to come, those holdings will be insufficient for future needs, and that quality of life we all seek to improve will suffer instead.

If you are interested in letting your opinion be known on what sort of recreation programs are needed, and where they should be located, you have opportunities to do exactly that.

The county already has held two public meetings, with two more scheduled for the coming week, one on Wednesday at the Mulberry Creek Community Center, and again on Thursday at Chestatee High School. (Speaking of geography, it is perhaps worth noting that three of the public meetings were in community centers in the southern, northern and eastern parts of the county, but there is not a similar center in the west, thus the high school venue.)

If you can’t attend a meeting, you can still make your voice heard by participating in an online survey open for everyone’s participation. The survey can be found here: https://www.projectsurveys.com/

We firmly believe that a modern, well planned parks and leisure program adds much to the economic strength and desirability of a community, and favor an ongoing program of land acquisition and parkland development as a measure of preserving natural space and meeting public needs.

We encourage you to become involved in helping to draft a plan for the future, and letting your voice be heard in the process. If you don’t, please don’t step forward in the future and complain that “No one asked us what we wanted.”

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