Back when Rob Jones was a sole commissioner, more than a decade ago, the county paid consultants to look at parks here and they unequivocally came to the conclusion – Roper Park won’t work for a growing county.
Since that time, various other people have noted the long, narrow swath of land made a fine airport but remains problematic for a park: Too far to walk from one end to the other for maintenance and for the public. Where do you conveniently locate parking lots and restrooms? When you have grandparents attending games or when you have kids who need to go to the restroom during a practice, the idea of having to cover several hundred yards is a big issue.
Modern parks come in cloverleaf shapes with central hubs so fields can share concession stands and bathrooms.
In the short term, the county does need to fix up what they have at Roper Park but moving ahead with any long term plan that doesn’t put adding substantial real estate as a top priority is shortsighted.
We would encourage the commissioners to be realistic about the larger reality of the long term: Our current park does not serve the needs of this county now and sure doesn’t allow for growth. Sooner or later the county is going to have to expand its parks.
As the members of the parks and recreation board discussed, they aren’t opposed to pickleball courts, but they do worry about losing any space at the park on Refuge Road, the only park the county owns. They already have to crowd things together for the youth programs.
Several members of the recreation board have expressed irritation at the historical lack of cooperation between the county and city of Jasper with their parks. And we concur wholeheartedly. Shame on any elected officials who is not open to stretching the meager park resources located inside the borders of this county as far as possible.
Perhaps with a little more cooperation and planning and a little less territorialism we could offer pickleball in one existing location, a new pool in another and have more space for youth events at Roper Park? Won’t know until we look.
Barring this, and perhaps even with this, the county simply needs more park land.
Few, if any, counties in our area have less property for recreation than we do. We are not urging our county to go above and beyond, just to get Pickens on par with our neighbors.
As to the prospect of buying land, some of the officials attending a joint park meeting with the park and rec. board worried about the cost. It’s a fair concern and one that wouldn’t be an issue if the county had acted on the initial consultants’ report a decade ago.
This issue will only grow the longer we wait. There may be some reversals in real estate prices in the short term but it seems unlikely we’ll see prices drop to a point that land costs aren’t considerable.
If it’s hard to find land that is A. Suitable and B. Affordable with our population at 35,000 what will it be like when the population is 60,000? There literally may not be any area centrally located, large enough for a park which doesn’t require tremendous grading still left.
By not finding another location now, the county is forcing two possible scenarios: 1. We are never able to expand outside of the current Roper Park location or 2. We will do so with fewer choices of land left and will pay higher prices.
We urge the recreation board and commissioners to plan now with funds from current and future sales tax referendums to lock down enough acreage so the people of Pickens have parks which are functional for both those with kids and older adults who may not have kids and a source of community pride.