Columbia County has grown by nearly 40 percent in the past 10 years. If it grows by just 3 percent per year in the next 10 years, there will be more than 40,000 more residents here.
Thanks to the robust construction industry, those new residents will have places to live. However,another dilemma is less-easily solved:
Where will all those people play?
Thanks to a recently completed study of the countys recreation opportunities, the answer is within reach. Its expensive, carrying a price tag of $77 million over the next decade.
Its a wish list, says Frank Neal, the director of Columbia Countys Community Services Division, recognizing that the price for the project seems high. The newly unveiled Parks and Recreation System Master Plan, a draft of which is currently under review, not only lays out a comprehensive road map for public recreation, but offers plans for filling in gaps in the countys current system.
Prepared by Lose & Associates of Nashville, Tenn., the plan is the result of a year-long study of existing recreational facilities and offerings in the county, sessions with the public and recreation officials, and a survey of county residents.
The result? Not surprisingly, the county badly needs more parks. Though the need for sports fields continues to grow, the greatest need in Columbia County is for passive recreation opportunities.
As the county grows and existing land is cleared for new homes, the opportunity to preserve those parks dwindles - especially as the value of that land continues to spiral upward. What I want is for the county to get the biggest bang for the dollar, says Richard Butler, long a leader and volunteer in the countys recreation system. I dont want my dollar to pay $3 million and get two ball fields when I can go 10 miles down the road and get 10 ball fields.
Currently, the county is nearing a decision on the purchase, with sales tax dollars, of a major new recreation complex in the outer part of the Evans area. The master plan foresees the need for four additional such parks - a pretty tall order - and dozens of smaller parks, in addition to substantial upgrades at existing facilities.
Its not all about spending money. The plan also suggests substantial changes in the way the Recreation Department does business so it generates substantially more income. The idea is to continue the tradition of public recreation, but to shift much of the cost from taxpayers to the biggest users.
Columbia Countys elected officials are expected to review the plan later this month. Their eyes shouldnt be just on what the county has, but on what it needs 10 years from now - when those 41,000 or more new residents are looking for a place to play.
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