After ‘yes’ vote, what’s next for rec?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 24, 2010

An overwhelming majority of Adams County voters virtually screamed for the community to invest in recreation during November’s special referendum.

So what’s next?

City, county and school board officials are selecting citizens to form the new recreation commission.

As these people are selected, hopefully, we’ll seek out some committee members who have a little ingenuity and vision.

Like many such projects, getting something usable will not be all that difficult. Getting something truly great, however, will require a little work.

Our community’s recreation efforts should be top-notch, the model for others.

While building facilities that can attract baseball, softball and soccer tournaments are important for helping bring outsiders to town, the first and foremost purpose of providing new recreation facilities should not be about visitors, but about residents — and potential residents.

November’s nearly 80 percent approval vote should stifle the critics who will attempt to nix the plans.

We have a clear mandate from the people and a clear “ceiling” of cost — $5.45 million.

Exactly what will be included in the plan is less clear.

Developing that comprehensive plan should be the priority of the soon-to-be-formed recreation commission, even if involving some “experts” from outside is necessary.

We need to move quickly to avoid losing the momentum and interest that voters have shown, but we need to move carefully enough to ensure the plan is truly great and the design and curb appeal is excellent.

Any facility will need to have baseball, softball and soccer fields, but a top-notch facility should also include some common “extras” such as practice fields and batting cages. Those are fairly commonplace.

A truly comprehensive facility, however, will incorporate some non-conventional sports, too.

A skateboard park should be high on that list.

Since cyclists worldwide know the Natchez Trace Parkway, the recreation facility that is anticipated to be located at the beanfield site, adjacent to the Trace, should be tied to the Trace.

Connecting the two would allow bicycle enthusiasts to easily park at the facility and enter the Trace. The same connector could provide runners with an easy entrance to the Trace, too.

Where possible, linking both Duncan Park — the city’s existing hub of recreation — and the new facility to the Natchez Trails Project should be considered.

Interconnecting all of these features will give our community a sense of cohesiveness in recreation.

In addition, a key part of recreation often overlooked is simply good green space — areas for families to have picnics, throw Frisbees or play catch.

Providing improved facilities for this at Duncan Park would be great, as would improving the areas in which to have children’s birthday parties or other family-style outings.

Excellent recreation facilities will certainly help bring in some outside money through tournaments — if we sell them well.

But the most important aspect of investing in recreation may be in the benefits to locals already here and the quality of life improvements that will attract others to our area.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.