Impacting Georgia’s Local Communities Through Recreation and Parks

August 20, 2018

Steve Card, CPRP, Executive Director, Georgia Recreation and Park Association

This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Steve Card
Loyalty and passion are what we all want for the communities we live in and serve. Loyalty is best described as citizens’ general satisfaction with a place, the likelihood to recom­mend it to others and their outlook on the commu­nity’s future. Passion, in this sense, is best described as a connection to a place and the pride felt by liv­ing there. Local parks and recreation play a key role in achieving these desired outcomes. Through fa­cilities and programming, community members en­gage in the outdoors, get healthier and connect to places to find relaxation.
Many communities across the state of Georgia have taken notice of the vast benefits recreation and parks offer to assure positive, sustaining growth. A National Recreation and Park Association study shows that over 20,000 jobs and over $2 billion in economic activity (transactions) in Georgia were ac­complished with local parks and recreation in 2015. Parks enhance real estate values. Values increase from 5-10 percent based on proximity to parks, which results in additional revenue.
Recreation and parks are the greatest enabler of personal and community wellness. Communi­ties are constructing greenspace, greenways and blueways (water trails) at a record pace. These have become not just a simple means of getting some­where, but a destination unto themselves. They of­fer a chance for local communities to redefine what it is to be a neighbor—to be a community and a region. Parks and recreation are the vessel through which all this is shared.
Although the Atlanta Beltline is a prime example of these spaces, many communities across the state are also seeing the benefits. The 18-mile greenbelt in Carrollton connects people with parks, neighbor­hoods and shops and has spurred numerous rede­velopment projects. In Woodbine several miles now advance the Tabby Trail Greenway connecting com­munities and schools. This is part of the 68-mile Georgia Coast Rail Trail vision that will ultimately be a 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway. These trails allow communities to offer partnership programming that keeps people active. One of the most successful ex­amples being the “Walk with a Doc” program that allows community members to walk and simultane­ously ask questions to a doctor. Local healthcare and park partnerships have also created opportunities where doctors will “prescribe” parks to patients for various health remedies.
Recreation complexes and community cen­ters are also enhancing the quality of life in many communities. Acworth is currently constructing a 50,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art community center that will be a center hub for the vibrant community. Adel is in phase 1 construction of a new $4 million rec­reation complex that will offer citizens and visitors various sports and leisure activities. The Springfield and Guyton communities (Effingham County) have started to see the impact of the recently completed recreation complex that included a $1 million do­nation for an artificial turf multipurpose baseball stadium by local hero Josh Reddick. The elected leadership has decided to bond the next phase of the complex due to the success.
As you begin planning for your department’s near and far future, ask yourself if your commu­nity’s demographics are reflected in program offer­ings, citizen board members, parkland acquisition priorities and facility designs. Look for partners when planning a community facility. A recently completed community center in Dalton not only houses recreational needs but also has a Women, Infant and Children wing and a health department wing staffed by a full-time doctor. Additional part­nerships with the local library, community arts, police and fire and school system, among others, made it an easy sell to the community. The success of this project turned into an overwhelmingly ap­proved SPLOST vote by the community to develop a 300-acre passive park with a 125-acre lake. Part­nerships can make the difference when it comes to offerings and funding.
These are only a few examples of some great things happening around the state with recreation and parks in your communities. Communication, cooperation and collaboration are key components to seeing a community’s vison become a reality. Quality of life is important for healthy and sustain­able community growth. Economic impact, attract­ing business, retaining young professionals, envi­ronmental stewardship, breaking social boundaries and community wellness are a few examples of why your local recreation and parks is the essential ser­vice to your community.
Other than the local school system, parks and recreation has the most direct impact on families. I would encourage community leaders to urge your local professionals to be innovative thinkers when planning for the opportunities offered to your citi­zens. Since change is inevitable, how we deal with the change will ultimately determine the success of our individual communities. So, the question is: How are you invoking loyalty and passion in your community?

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