Recreation needs some community consulting

Published 12:08 am Friday, August 31, 2007

Since I started work at The Natchez Democrat in 2000, recreation has sat on the Top 10 list of needs and wants for many Natchez residents.

As a fledgling photographer, I would spend most of my summer evenings under the lights of the Duncan Park baseball fields snapping pictures of little sluggers sliding into second base or home plate.

During those long hot nights, I talked to many residents between innings about their dreams for what recreation in our city could be.

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I gained a great appreciation for the imagination and vision of many of our local sports fans.

Many of those between-inning conversations grew into long discussions about a vision of Natchez as a destination point for sports fans and players across the region.

Others would simply talk about the needs of children in our very own city and county. Simple things like modern bathroom facilities and better lighting were at the top of their list.

And then there were those who shared their big dreams of Olympic-size swimming pools and skateboard parks.

It became apparent to me, if community support for such a complex ever came to fruition it had to come from such a vision.

That point was made clear to me when the recreation matter was brought to the forefront of Natchez politics in 2000.

It was an election year and former mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown commissioned a consultant to develop a recreation plan. A colorful rendering of it ended up hanging in the Wal-Mart Supercenter for shoppers to see every time they passed by with their grocery carts.

It was a pie in the sky vision that included things like a lazy river and Frisbee golf course.

In my discussions with residents over the years, not once was either of these proposals ever mentioned.

They may have been good ideas, but were they the best use of the community’s money? And is it what the city and county needed at the time?

Now once again as election time nears, city officials are bringing the recreation issue back to the spotlight.

Good for them. Addressing the issue is long overdue.

But why do we need to spend $100,000 on an outside consultant?

Before we spend any money on a group of consultants to tell us that we need another lazy river and Frisbee golf course, have we determined what our needs are and what we want?

My contention is that the hard work of getting out and talking with the people who use our parks and playgrounds has not been done.

They are our best consultants who know what our biggest needs and biggest dreams are.

And believe me, it is not easy work to determine what a very diverse community needs. But it is necessary work if a new recreation plan wants community support.

The recreation commission formed in 2003 during the previous mayoral administration did a lot of work looking at all aspects of recreation, from equestrian to aquatics.

The commission was formed to plan, finance, build and operate a recreation facility to be built on the open field adjacent to Natchez High School.

They had already started to do recreation the right way by building support from the community.

They had already spent countless hours assessing the needs of recreation areas in the city and county — making a realistic list of what the community needed.

Unfortunately due to the closing of International Paper and other industries, the commission’s work never came to fruition.

Maybe the mayor and board of aldermen need to dust off the commission’s work and continue what they started.

Before they spend money on a consultant, maybe they need to look at the time and energy the commission spent learning from the community, not some outside consultant.

If they don’t, we may just end up with another pretty picture hanging on the grocery store wall.

Ben Hillyer is web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at