Programming survey in final week | State & Region

Fayette County Parks and Recreation is peering ahead to a post-Covid-19 future. 

Through Nov. 30, the board is accepting responses for a survey related to planning and management for the future of the Fayette County Park in Beckwith and the Fayette County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building in Fayetteville.

“We think it’s important to hear from the community, their thoughts about programming for both places,” said Renee Harper, park director.

The survey asks people to share memories they have of both facilities.

“The park and the memorial building are very nice assets that the county owns,” said Harper. “Some Fayette County residents feel a real connection, whether it be the park or the memorial building. We certainly feel it’s important to hear from the community going forward, ideas they have.

“Certainly we would encourage the public to (fill out the survey).” It is available at the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2HY9LMS.

Among the questions posed are the frequency of the respondents’ use of either facility, as well as reasons for their past visits. Also, survey participants are asked to suggest children and adult activities of which they’d like to see more at the venues, such as health and wellness, senior programs, arts and crafts, home/garden show or music at the memorial building or events such as nature programs, outdoor concerts or movies, or food vendor competitions at the park.

They are also asked about changes they would suggest for each facility, and how the facilities could be better used to serve the community.

Harper, who will leave the director’s job in early December, says she’s seen “the connection that a lot of people feel for this park.” She mentioned talking to former lifeguards in years past about their memories of working at the park pool, as well as individuals who revisited their time spent at various camps at the park over the decades. With the memorial building, many people recall playing or watching sports at the facility, and others remember past music concerts staged there through the years.

Covid-19 has hindered operations to some degree at both locations since mid-March. The FCSSMB has been used with less frequency than the park, obviously, since it is indoors. Fayette County Commission-related functions such as meetings, elections and a recent Veterans Day ceremony have been held there this year, and some small exercise activities have occurred, but a slew of other events had to be canceled.

And, with school and community sports events on hold until at least Jan. 11, many of the games and activities normally attracted to the building are up in the air for at least the early portion of 2021, says building manager Okey Skidmore. “Everything’s up in the air; I’ve had interest in a few things (but they can’t be scheduled),” he said.

Skidmore hopes to see the results of the survey help spur a movement to “bring excitement, I hope, back to the building. Get (people) interested in the building again, maybe see that the community still sees some value in the building.”

Seeing more bodies in the historic structure again is crucial, he said. “That’s what this building was built for, to use it.”

“This year, we were able to keep the park gate open, which I felt good about,” Harper said. “A lot of parks didn’t; they closed down.

“We’ve seen an increase in day users, people looking for a place to social distance and green space where they could get out with the kids. Disc golf seemed to be a big hit with locals; as well, we’ve seen a lot of out-of-area guests enjoying the disc golf this summer,” she added.

The county pool wasn’t opened for the summer, but Harper says it’s an asset to be protected and improved for the future. Funding availability and getting past Covid-19 are concerns on the front end.

“At top of my list would be some improvements and upgrades to the pool,” she said. “The pool is one of the few public pools that’s left in Fayette County and surrounding counties. There’s not a lot of public swimming pools left.

“That’s an asset the county needs to protect and look after. … I think we need to pay great attention to that pool and the pool facility,” she added.

“I feel like the past two or three years we were trending to move past the time when the pool was closed for pool repairs. A lot of folks didn’t think the pool reopened.”

Staff have taken strides in more recent times to market the facility, and numerous events such as ladies swims and senior swims were held there until 2020. “We were at the point we were certainly seeing the numbers grow,” she said.

Harper said that hopefully by midsummer or the fall of 2021 some of the programming ideas suggested in the survey can be implemented.

Finances in recent years have been an issue, she admits. “For the last few years, county revenue has been down by the way of the coal severance and all that, so yeah, that does ultimately affect the park and the memorial building. The funding’s not there like it was in 2015, 2012 when times were a little better.

“The county’s always pursuing grants. Yes, funding’s an issue. When there are funding cuts, other things take priority over recreation. I don’t want to indicate that things are critical, but the current funding situation in the county doesn’t allow for a lot of capital improvements and that sort of thing.

“I don’t foresee the park increasing fees at this point because we did a couple years ago,” Harper said.

However, groups such as little league and AAU basketball which have used the FCSSMB for free in the past are facing having to pay a fee in the future, she noted. “We have examined a usage fee for groups, something that is very reasonable.”

The county commission has approved a $50 per hour fee for general public use of the FCSSMB, $2,000 per season for AAU (starting in 2022) and $1,000 per season for Fayetteville Youth Basketball starting in 2022, Harper said. “We continue to work toward a fee schedule for nonprofits/civic groups, etc.”

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