The Valdosta Daily Times
Authority board members peered for into the future of Lowndes County's parks and recreation system for roughly an hour on Thursday evening as a representative from Lose & Associates presented a summary of the hurdles and opportunity that awaits the VLPRA (Valdosta-Lowndes Parks and Recreation Authority) over the course of the next six year.
Add bulk, run smoother, increase spending and advertise your successes, were the suggestions Chris Camp outlined during his presentation of the study and subsequent report from Lose & Associates study on the VLPRA.
The Comprehensive Park and Recreation Master Plan was based on metrics gleaned from a community-wide survey of our parks and recreation department, interviews with staff and users, public meetings and a steering committee workshop, according to Camp.
Approximately 27 percent of respondents cited lack of awareness as their primary reason why they rarely used VLPRA facilities, roughly 20 percent cited lack of time and around 12 percent of participant pointed to lack of amenities as their reasoning for avoiding the parks, according to Camp. Other reason included lack of money, poor maintenance, accessibility concerns and inadequate transportation, according to Camp.
Beating out the state average of 28 percent, Camp said Lowndes County's obesity rate was roughly 34 percent and that providing more access to parks and advertising the authority's programs could help lower that number. Roughly 43 percent of respondents stated that they wouldn't walk to a park, no matter how close, and about 45 percent stated that biking wasn't an option either.
“Let me give you some comparison. We've probably competed about 25 parks and recreation surveys around the country and these are the highest 'no bike' and 'no walk' numbers that we've ever had,” said Camp. “And I think this authority should work to change that because part of that is the lack of green-ways to the facilities. You have very few greenways her in the county and most parents aren't going to turn their children loose on a busy road to access a park. But they will allow them to use a greenway.”
The master plan suggested that the VLPRA hire more employees to breathe life into programs and facilities that were underutilized and it laid our a new organizational structure that cut down on redundant reports and empower each element of the authority.
“You have to bring your staffing levels in line with other agencies across the country,” said Camp. “Remember, your at 27 full-time personnel. The nation average for your population and budget size is 84. You're at 35 percent of the national average on your full-time staffing levels.”
Respondents listed the development of aquatics, more events, the Fourth of July Fireworks display, the renovation of facilities and rest room and a new community center as their top five needs in recreational facilities. But to fulfill the aforementioned wish-list, the VLPRA would need to bring more citizen on board to invest in the department as roughly 55 percent of respondents stated that they wouldn't contribute a cent to the authority on a monthly basis.
“You also need to expand programs countywide, rather than focusing them all in Valdosta,” said Camp. “Take programs up to Hahira. Take programs down to Clyattville. There's got to be community space in these areas to hold a class. You've got people in your rural areas that would love the addition of a new class in their area.”
But Thursday evening's presentation of the VLPRA's suggested master plan covered more than the obstacles the authority faces. Camp also suggested that the board plans to one day create trail from a 66-mile of rarely used train tracks.
“It's owned by the Genesee and Wyoming railroad, which is based out of Jacksonville, Fla.. You need to get that on your radar. It that line where to become available, you could create a trail that would start in Valdosta and end up all the way down in Martin, Fla.”
The length of the tracks and flatness of the area could be a national draw, but it would at least be a major attraction in South Georgia, according to Camp.
To conclude the presentation, Camp laid out his company's suggestions into three tiers based on feasibility and community feedback. The Lose & Associates plan suggested that the VLPRA seek out funding from local revenue generator, such as sales taxes and fee, as well as grants to meet the $77,719,099 it would cost to execute the six-year plan and fund the following projects and more:
Tier One Priorities
• Purchase park properties and develop a new soccer and youth baseball complexes.
• Develop design standards
•Conduct a tournament center feasibility test.
•Conduct a study on the feasibility of a sports programming and multi-use center.
•Develop a new county-line boat ramp and begin renovations at Little River boat ramp.
• Begin ADA-compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act) upgrades at parks throughout the system.
•Renovate South Lowndes Park complex to meet ADA and health code requirements,
•Develop improved trails at Langdale Park.
•Develop a master plan for the development of a 12-court tennis facility and construct six courts in the initial phase.
•Renovate South Lowndes in general.
Tier Two Priorities
•Continue development of boat ramps
•Develop a multi-generational community building in North Lowndes.
•Develop a master plan for an aquatics complex.
•Draft a master plan for the redevelopment of Vallotton Park and designate some field space for practice only.
•Develop environmental education at Langdale Park.
•Develop a community center in Naylor.
Tier Three Priorities
•Continue ADA improvement throughout the parks system.
•Replace aging picnic shelters throughout the parks system.
•Add a fishing pier at Oris Blackburn Memorial Park.
•Evaluate the next phase of construction at the aquatics complex.
•Continue greenway development throughout Lowndes County.