By Zachary Horner, Chatham News + Record Staff
Not long ago, Ashley Lux watched as her daughter Haley, 7, held onto her sister Grace, 2, as they went down a slide at North- west District Park in Siler City.
The two children then ran off to the pretend “store” — where currency was mulch and the products, well, you couldn’t see them, but they were there — on the park’s playground.
Ashley watched as she talked about how much her family used the parks, when it was warm, at least. It was a chilly winter after- noon as she spoke about the state of parks in Chatham County.
“We don’t have a lot,” she said. “We definitely would love to have more walking trails. We really enjoy those, especially when it’s warm.”
Maybe she knew, and maybe she didn’t, but both the Town of Pittsboro and Chatham County governmental entities are already ahead of Lux’s desires for parks services where her children are growing up.
TOWN OF PITTSBORO
Pittsboro, where Lux and her family live, is in the “wrap-up” stages of its parks master plan, according to Parks Planner Paul Horne.
“Having such a plan adopted is simply good governance, at it provides a solid framework for prioritizing finite resources to best meet our community’s goals,” Horne said. “Such planning assumes greater importance in light of Pittsboro’s anticipated growth.” The draft stage of the plan shows a comprehensive improvement of parks, what the document calls “necessary infrastructure” and “crucial components of economically vibrant, healthy, resilient and more equitable communities.”
The town held a parks forum in April 2017 to receive community feedback, with one of the major elements desired being walking and biking trails. The draft plan says that desire is in line with national trends, something Horne echoes. He said that greenways and walking trails add health, transportation and economic benefits to the surrounding area.
“These facilities are popular because they’re accessible to the largest number of people irrespective of age or ability level,” he said. “Not everyone can safely do CrossFit or downhill ski, but seniors, moms with strollers, young children, and everyone in-between can walk or navigate a wheelchair along a paved greenway.”
Horne added that homes in Apex located along a greenway “are selling for about $3,000 more than homes not on a greenway.”
The current plan is available on the town’s website, with the final plan to be presented to the town board of commissioners sometime this year.
Chatham County is farther along in its Comprehensive Master Plan for Parks, Recreation, Greenways and Blueways, having asking residents to weigh in on the five proposed vision statements for its master plan by Jan. 25.
The statements include creating a “strategy for parkland to better serve the diversified needs of a rapidly growing region,” “prioritiz(ing) the planning and construction of parks, greenways
and amenities to en- hance countywide health equity outcomes” and developing a network of greenways and “multi-use paths” to “preserve natural resources, provide recreation opportunities, bolster economic development and connect people and places.”
Based on an August 2018 survey of 312 county residents, 43 percent of county households have used county parks in the last 12 months. Forty-six percent said they’d use a walking/jogging track, and among the most important additions, 38 percent listed natural trails and 25 percent supported the construction of greenway trails.
Tracy Burnett, director of parks and recreation for Chatham County, said the comprehensive plan
is required for some state and federal grants and “will guide improvements to parks, programs and internal operations for the next ten years.”
Seventy percent of Cha- tham County residents surveyed indicated they “want” to use greenways anywhere from “at least a few times a year” to “daily,” but the county needs 68.7 more miles
of trails to meet the 2018 Level of Service, which Burnett said is “developed through a combination of national standards, best practices and community input.”
“It is used to help anticipate and plan for future needs based on population projections,” she said.
The plan is in the final stage of editing, Burnett added, and will be presented to the Chatham County Board of Commissioners for adoption on Feb. 18.
Both county and town residents indicated in very certain terms they’d support new parks.
According to a county survey, 72 percent of residents are somewhat willing, willing or very willing to pay entrance fees or user fees to use the parks, while 64 percent are willing to pay increased taxes to support development of new recreation facilities in the county.
“These results are typical of communities who support the parks system and believe quality parks contribute to a greater quality of life,” Burnett said.
A similar survey in Pittsboro led to similar results. Ninety-eight percent of those polled said they’d be willing to pay an additional $1-3 dollars in taxes per month to support new parks, while 57 percent said they’d pay $8-9 a month more.
“There’s a huge demand for more recreational offerings, conservation land, greenways, and more walkable communities in general,” Horne said. “We’re playing catch-up with the rest of the Triangle and certainly the most viable and successful cities in the nation have invested heavily in their qualities of life as expressed through their parks, recreation, and cultural amenities.”
Both Horne and Burnett said their respective municipalities will likely need to acquire more land for parks based on projected population growth, mainly due to the Chatham Park development.
Chatham Park itself had the location for its first park approved at the Jan. 14 meeting of the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners. Vineyard Park, a 10-acre neighborhood park that will be part of Pittsboro’s system, will include multiple play spaces, a splash pad, dog park, multi-purpose play field and a 0.3-mile walking trail.
Horne said he’s encouraged that public surveys have shown support for park expansion because such expansion leads to better quality of life. He said parks contribute to the “triple bottom line” — the social, environmental and financial performance of a community — pointing specifically to the social aspect.
“Connections between fellow community members is not only important socially but builds stronger community cohesion,” he said.
As both the county and the town push toward more places for residents to walk, play and connect, he said, he’s excited about the ramifications.
“While we are playing catch up in many respects, it is encouraging that the public surveys clearly support more investments in parks in recreation because they feel that parks contribute to their quality of life in tangible, relatable ways,” Horne said. “I think that trend will continue as new resi- dents move in with higher expectations. The statistically-valid survey results simply confirm what most resident intuitively know. People live in Pittsboro for a high quality of life, conserving our best land via park, and offering more recreational opportunities just takes that quality of life to a new and better level.”
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