published Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Hamilton County parks plan calls for more greenspace

Moriah Stansberry, 10, foregournd, plays with a bucket while friends, from left, Nate Stansberry, 8, Tucker Quering, 10, and Coral Quering, 8, splash in the water as temperatures hover in the middle 80s at Chester Frost Park in Hixson early Monday afternoon.
Moriah Stansberry, 10, foregournd, plays with a bucket while friends, from left, Nate Stansberry, 8, Tucker Quering, 10, and Coral Quering, 8, splash in the water as temperatures hover in the middle 80s at Chester Frost Park in Hixson early Monday afternoon.
Photo by Dan Henry.

MOST-VISITED COUNTY PARKS (unranked)

• Chester Frost

• Tennessee Riverwalk

• Enterprise South

• Harrison

• Vandergriff

• Signal Mountain

SURVEY RESULTS

Suggested Hamilton County Parks and Recreation priorities by survey results:

• Family space - 34 percent

• Greenspace - 33 percent

• Camping - 17 percent

• Programs - 16 percent

One of Hamilton County's first plans to get more residents outdoors: Tell them about parks on the Internet.

A proposed five-year master plan assessment for the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department says the county needs to step up its online presence so residents have easier access to information about public parks. It also calls for ramping up cooperation with other government agencies, connecting parks with greenways and trails, prioritizing greenspaces over other uses -- and granting the parks and recreation department its own budget.

Overall, 1,775 residents who returned park surveys between October and December last year said the park system was in good shape. The surveys were created by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students and staff and distributed at the county's most popular parks, sent home with school students and distributed to county employees.

According to the assessment, 67 percent of participants said they were satisfied or very satisfied with county parks, 70 percent said parks positively affect their health, 72 percent said green space improved their quality of life and 80 percent said parks were "central to Hamilton County's identity."

But those people aren't the ones the county needs to convince to go play outside.

The assessment identified 14 things people reported kept them from visiting parks. County staff took note of listed maintenance issues and safety concerns, but the three most common reasons for not visiting parks were lack of access, time and information.

The proposed five-year plan calls for the county to bring more residents to public parks by better informing them, making parks more accessible and making parks that more people want to visit.

To bolster information, the county should get connected to social media and develop an Internet presence, according to the plan.

But making parks more accessible is a bit trickier.

The assessment said parks are not distributed evenly throughout the county and "without local access to open spaces, residents are much less likely to engage in physical and social activities."

The county is making progress, but it needs to make more, according to the report.

"The growing greenway system is a move in the right direction, but it must be developed intentionally. Isolated parks and trails, for instance, are less likely to generate use because people must go out of their way to drive to such parks," according to the report.

Connecting county parks is going to take some coordination with the school system and other municipalities, according to the report.

Mayor Jim Coppinger said Monday the county has worked with other agencies in the past, and it will continue to do so.

"We are always looking for ways to partner, particularly with public education. Some of the programs we do obviously don't touch all of the 42,000 students, but some do. That's just people being creative and trying to find better ways to integrate our parks with their education system," Coppinger said. "We will continue that effort and continuously work with the city of Chattanooga and, specifically, Mayor Andy Berke."

But with regard to the parks and recreation department getting its own budget, Coppinger was less committal.

"Arguably, they do [have a budget]. When we put the budget together now, they are given a certain amount of money through line items. What they are alluding to is having the ability to do their own capital projects," Coppinger said. "That's something to review. If it makes sense, we'll do it. If not, we won't."

County commissioners will vote to approve or reject the plan Wednesday at a regular meeting.

Development Department Director Dan Saieed told commissioners last week the five-year plan was required to apply for Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation grants and to better guide park and facility development in the future. In the past 17 years, the county has received $1.6 million from TDEC grants, Saieed said. Just last year, the county received $250,000, which was matched through private funds, to buy property for the Tennessee Riverwalk in downtown Chattanooga -- the most-visited park in the county.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at 423-757-6481 or at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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