Polk considers new recreation plan

Published 11:20 am Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Director to retire Dec. 31

by Leah Justice

The Polk County Recreation Department could soon make changes with the retirement announcement from director Patty Aldred and commissioners considering the adoption of a new recreation plan.

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Aldred recently announced her retirement, set for Dec. 31, after leading the recreation department for 18 years.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Nov. 4 and was presented a new recreation plan, which included surveys where more than 50 percent of respondents said the most popular programs were open swimming, walking, youth basketball and recreational play in Polk County.

Programs popular to 20 to 49 percent of the respondents included swim lessons, Little League baseball and softball, volleyball, soccer, being a spectator at sporting events, summer camps, basketball leagues, tennis and middle school sports.

The recreation plan was prepared by the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission (IPDC) and presented to commissioners by IPDC’s Jerry Stensland.

The county paid IPDC $6,000 to to create the plan.

Stensland said the plan was developed with significant public input over the past two years. The county created the recreation plan in order to qualify for grants and to have a plan for the next several years for developing recreational opportunities.

Stensland said there were 434 responses on the survey. The plan also includes county demographics, maps of the county’s recreation facilities and recommendations for new facilities.

Stensland also said as part of creating the plan, he added all of Polk’s recreation facilities, including the 10,000 acres of game lands on Google maps.

Recommendations included creating joint use agreements with the school system for use of school facilities to make it clear who is responsible.

The draft plan recommends that the county maintain its existing facilities with Gibson Pool and park needing an assessment for its expected lifespan.

New investments, according to the draft plan, should be made at the recreation complex in Mill Spring.

The plan also suggests updating job descriptions for the recreation department’s full-time staff, especially considering Aldred has been with the department 18 years and her job responsibilities have shifted significantly over the years.

The plan also recommends that the county facilitate new trail development. Stensland said the county doesn’t have to do trail development itself, but can lead the effort and bring other partners in as well as grant money.

“There’s definitely a demand from the community (for more trails),” Stensland said.

He said there seems to be a demand for public equestrian trails as well as for hiking and biking trails.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he would love to see public equestrian trails created at Alexander’s Ford.

The plan also recommends creative tie-ins for the county’s existing trails, including the recreation complex and Searcy Field, especially considering the trails’ close proximity.

Other recommendations included enhancing the county’s recreation marketing, such as more photographs and information about parks through different media outlets.

The plan also recommends the county create a Friends of Polk County Recreation nonprofit organization in order to tap into the community and to be able to generate donations. Stensland also said one of the county’s first projects could be new signs and monuments at its current facilities.

The plan also addresses a possible YMCA locating in the area in the future.

Commissioners asked Stensland if he sees a YMCA as a threat. Stensland said it could be a threat or an opportunity for Polk County. He said the programs at a YMCA could split the number of kids participating if the YMCA offers the same programs but it also could be an opportunity if a YMCA brings an indoor pool.

An indoor pool is something that keeps coming up year after year on the community’s wish list, Stensland said, but it costs money and there is a potential there for a YMCA to provide and operate one.

Commissioners said they have great working relationships with the schools as far as using facilities and expressed reluctance over creating formal joint use agreements.

Commissioner Tom Pack said he is proud to see that 83 percent of respondents to the survey said they are satisfied with the county’s recreational opportunities.

Commissioners recommended minor amendments to the plan and said they would consider adopting the plan during the county’s first meeting in December.