Recreation hearings will help set 10-year plan

Article Published: Dec. 3, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

The Watauga County Recreation Commission wants to know how, what and where people want to play in the coming decade.

The commission is holding a series of public meetings to gather input to help develop a 10-year master plan. While the plan is geared primarily toward facilities, to help county government make budget decisions, facility needs arise from the types of activities people want to pursue.

Parks and recreation director Stephen Poulos said one emerging trend is the move toward public-private partnerships, in which the county works with non-profit groups to enhance facilities.

Typically, the county will provide some funding or support through labor and machinery to help develop projects.

The Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex is one such success, resulting in a collaborative effort between Watauga County, Appalachian State University and the High Country Soccer Association to install two artificial-turf fields in Boone, allowing for year-round soccer. The county also helped with community parks in Valle Crucis and Green Valley.

The popularity of certain sports changes with each generation, Poulos said.

The "traditional sports" of baseball, basketball and football have given way to sports such as soccer, which have wide participation. Poulos said there was also interest in disc golf, lacrosse and other activities, and the meetings will be used to learn about new interests.
"We'll see what the trends are among youths," Poulos said. "This is a blueprint to see what facilities we want and what direction the community wants us to go in."

According to its mission statement, the Watauga County Parks and Recreation Department strives to provide a wide variety of quality recreational programming opportunities in the areas of arts, youth and adult athletics, special programs, special events, special populations including Special Olympics, aquatics, and summer youth camps.

The community meetings will be held at three times and locations: Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at Valle Crucis Elementary School; Monday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at Parkway Elementary School; and Thursday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. at Hardin Park Elementary School.

The input from the meeting will be combined with the results of a needs assessment conducted for the county by Appalachian State University. The 2020 Watauga County Parks & Recreation Master Plan will cover programs, facilities and expansions, and is being crafted with the help of High Country Council of governments.

The department's mission is for recreational programs to be "enjoyable, fun, fulfilling, safe, and rewarding for all Watauga County citizens." Current county facilities include a gym, a community clubhouse, 26 multi-purpose athletic fields, three parks, 13 tennis courts, six outdoor basketball courts, eight picnic shelters and an indoor pool.

The parks and recreation department was formed in 1973 and is advised by an 18-member Recreation Commission, appointed by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners. The main office is located at 231 Complex Drive in Boone.

A History of Recreation Plans
Watauga County residents have formally updated their recreational needs twice in the past 30 years, but some of the same issues continue to turn up.

With the county undertaking a new 10-year recreation plan, the last two plans have yielded suggestions that have led to successful private-public partnerships, expansion of rural parks, and progress towards a community center.

The first comprehensive look at local recreational needs was in 1980, when the biggest issue was decentralization of recreational resources, with most parks and programs located within the Boone town limits.

That 1980 recreation plan led to the creation of an arts position in the department to meet a demand for more cultural activities, a role since taken on by the Watauga County Arts Council. The 1980 plan also led to the development of smaller parks in the outlying areas of the county, such as the Old Cove Creek School and collaborative efforts with elementary schools. It also advocated for more walking and jogging trails, a need met by the town of Boone's Greenway Trail and the county's recent commitment to trail development as part of its Tourism Development Authority spending. Other 1980 recreational needs were met by private industry, such as winter sports resorts and fitness centers.

The 1999 plan proposed an indoor community center for basketball, handball, racquetball, bowling, fitness training and other activities. While no center has been constructed, the county has set aside land at the new 70-acre high school site for a future center.

A report by the High Country Recreation Task Force noted that $60,000 had been set aside to improve indoor recreation facilities in 1984 but those funds were eventually diverted for other needs. The report advocated such a center in Boone to provide supervised recreation for teens, promote tourism and improve community health.

The 1999 plan included assumptions such as a new indoor pool being constructed and more development of rural parks. The county has funded improvements to the existing pool in Boone but closed an outdoor pool in Green Valley. The county also worked with community groups to develop or expand the Tot Lot in Boone and parks in Green Valley, Sugar Grove and Valle Crucis. However, the goal of adding more lighted facilities in the rural communities has not been widely fulfilled.

The county has added more parks land as recommended in the 1999 plan, with the addition of two properties on Brookshire Road in Boone that are used primarily for soccer and the recent addition of 45 acres through the Tourism Development Authority to be developed for mountain biking and hiking trails.

The 1999 plan also advised a limit on the types of specialized sports the county should provide. The county's recent attempt at partnering with the Appalachian Skatepark Council ultimately ended in failure due to safety and liability concerns.

Ambitious plans to develop flood-plain property after a federal buyout in the 1990s eventually were scaled down to add more passive recreation and walking trails near the county's current recreation complex in Boone. The county opened two new regulation-sized softball fields on the property this year.

The 1999 plan anticipated little increase in population, though more activities for the senior populations were recommended. The 1999 plan also noted that many Appalachian State University students use local recreational resources despite ASU's on-campus recreational opportunities.

Citizen input on recreational needs is sought for the new recreation plan, with the first meeting on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at Valle Crucis Elementary School. Other meetings are Dec. 14 at Parkway Elementary School and Dec. 17 at Hardin Park Elementary School.

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