LAURINBURG — With an outdated master plan and the retirement of its two most senior leaders on the horizon, Scotland County Parks and Recreation officials say the department’s future is cloudy.
Those officials met on Tuesday with consultants from N.C. State University’s Recreation Resources Service to get ideas on how to make a clear long-term plan.
“In a few years Al and I will be gone,” department Director Shannon Newton told the board, referring to the inevitable retirement of herself and Athletic Superintendent Al Blades. “That’s why I invited these speakers in today.”
Pete Armstrong, director of the university-based consulting team, advised the board to begin revamping its “master plan” for the future of parks and recreation in Scotland County as soon as possible.
“The master planning process is what allows you to open up to a vision of the future,” Armstrong explained.
More practically, an updated master plan will also facilitate funding from grant and organizational sources, said Vonda Martin, another consultant from the university.
“There are resources there available to you. But you first have to decide where you want to start and the direction you want to go,” Martin said.
According to Martin, the best practice for parks and recreation departments is to develop a new master plan every five years, even though they are typically written to cover a 10 year time span.
The department is currently operating under a master plan created in 2006.
“Economic and demographic factors have contributed to that,” Martin said. “(Industry) has left town and the number of kids has gone down with it.”
The 2006 plan was commissioned and completed at a cost of about $4,000. Newton said fees were hard to pinpoint, but she expects costs have gone up.
Armstrong suggested the board start small, and attempt to partner with area churches, civic organizations or the county health department. Martin recommended the board take its advice directly from the people of Scotland County.
“Your (direction) should come from a public survey,” Martin advised. “You have to find out what they want. Not what the county commissioners want or what your (other local leaders want).”
One idea Martin fronted was to connect city parks with “greenways,” maintained trails for running and biking that can encourage park diversity by allowing visitors to travel between them.
Jan Schmidt, a member of the county’s recreation board, said the county may have lost touch with its residents.
“I think one of our biggest issues is communication,” Schmidt said. “We have newspaper and radio, but not everybody takes advantage of that. We can’t place signs anymore … most of our roads are state roads, and they don’t allow signs.”
Armstrong again recommended the partnership route, this time saying that the board should reach out to the Laurinburg City Council and the Scotland County Board of Commissioners.
“Tell them that they need to provide a forum to let people know what’s going on,” Armstrong said.
Martin and Armstrong agreed that the department has been “doing a great job” managing the county’s 14 parks with funding and staffing limitations.
“It’s really amazing that they have been able to do what they have done and manage all that they have,” Armstrong said.
Scotland County, Armstrong said, is unique in that it’s parks are not managed by the municipalities in which they are located, but rather the county department.