Local recreation at a crossroads

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 3, 2001

A chain and padlock block would-be swimmers from Duncan Park pool. One of the few remaining ballfields at Liberty Park soon will be absorbed into construction for extension of the Natchez Trace Parkway. And a multi-million-dollar plan to build a state-of-the-art recreational complex near Natchez High School must be scaled back to fit National Park Service requirements. Despite these setbacks, local leaders say they stand firm in their commitment to improving recreation in Natchez and Adams County.

Ward 5 Alderman David Massey said he was more than a little disappointed to hear about the &uot;monkey wrench&uot; thrown into the city, county and school district’s plans for a recreational complex at the beanfield.

After more than a year of discussions, including a preliminary plan for the $3 million complex, local officials learned last month that the National Park Service, which owns the land, will not permit any major excavation on the 100-plus acres.

Email newsletter signup

U.S. Senate Bill 2020 passed last fall cleared the way for the park service to enter into a long-term lease agreement with the City of Natchez for recreational purposes.

But park service representatives said policy is to allow leases no longer than five years. Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith has said he will ask for an opinion on the length of the lease.

No matter the lease time, a costly archaeological survey to determine the boundaries of historic land on the property will be necessary.

At least part of the land has been identified as the &uot;St. Catherine Concession,&uot; a plantation developed during French occupation and destroyed by Natchez Indians in the 1729 uprising. Another portion may be connected with English settlers.

But Massey is optimistic the project can still be pulled together, even if it means finding another site.&uot;There’s more than one way to do it,&uot; Massey said. &uot;We just need to find about 80 acres somewhere, even if it’s out in the county,&uot; Massey said. And Massey emphasized that the city would happily accept a donation of land.

Ward 6 Alderman Jake Middleton said the same. &uot;If things don’t work out in one place, we’ll find another,&uot; he said.

Middleton, who also serves as chairman of the recreation committee, openly voices his enthusiasm for recreation. &uot;We’ve sat on this thing long enough,&uot; Middleton said. &uot;It’s time to move, and I’m ready to move.&uot;

Middleton said he is frustrated with talk about recreation and ready to take action. And if no one is ready to step up and take the reins, he is more than willing &uot;I’m the one person,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m the one that’s going to get it started.&uot;

Economic impact

Massey said the city invited the mayor of Rockhill, S.C., to speak in Natchez several years ago about the economic impact a recreation complex had on the community there. &uot;It’s a tremendous asset to even have,&uot; Massey said. &uot;And it would go hand in hand with the convention center. But once again, it’s the money.&uot;

Middleton agreed. &uot;Recreation attracts industry. Industry brings jobs and jobs bring money,&uot; he said. &uot;Everybody benefits from recreation.&uot;

Arceneaux said she remembers the concerns of former Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown, who said Natchez and Adams County were &uot;missing the market&uot; of youth and children.

&uot;(Recreation) is definitely a form of economic development,&uot; Arceneaux said. It creates jobs and helps tourism.

Both Middleton and Massey said they support the idea of a joint city-county recreation board, one that could combine its resources and present a unified plan to both city and county residents.

City and county working together

&uot;This is one time where everybody is wanting to do the same thing, and that hasn’t happened before,&uot; Massey said of the united front on recreation, specifically the proposed sports complex.

Until now, the city has shouldered most of the recreation burden, Massey said. Although both city residents and those who live outside city limits benefit from the city’s recreation programs.

Massey said people should not be surprised if they are approached with county-wide referendum to float a bond issue to pay for the complex.

&uot;The people are going to have to want a recreation complex, and they’re going to have to pay for it,&uot; Massey said. &uot;Nothing is free, nothing.&uot;

Middleton said the same.&uot;You just decide how much money you want to spend, get some signatures, and put it on the ballot,&uot; he said.

Middleton said he believes a first-rate complex could be built if each family in Adams County contributed between $30 and $35 a year, which he said is no more than a night out for a family of three.

The pool

Middleton said money that would be required to repair Duncan Park pool could be better spent if it was put toward a natatorium or recreation complex. Arceneaux said the pool need should have been addressed before now. &uot;We knew two years ago we had problems with that pool,&uot; Arceneaux said of Duncan Park. And the repairs that were made served as merely &uot;stop gap&uot; measures. In the meantime, she said, a plan should have been formulated about what to do next.

– By staff writer April Wortham