At locations around Hillsborough County, officials from the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation department are meeting with residents to discuss future recreational plans for the county.
On June 27, the public input session was held at the Northdale Community Center. That was one of seven meetings in June to gather suggestions as the county creates its comprehensive plan for its parks system.
The goal is to have a final master plan in time for the county’s budget discussions in January, said Doc Dougherty, the county’s parks and recreation director.
Once it has been completed, the plan essentially will be a “wish book” of requests, upgrades and programming for the park system.
Ideas from residents and department staff are both being considered.
“It’s the involvement of everybody — it’s not just one person’s plan,” Dougherty said. “In the end, we can have a much more productive department and better quality of life through our parks overall,” he said.
The county’s parks and recreation system is large. It includes: More than 180 neighborhood parks, 118 playgrounds, 270 athletic fields and 53 community centers.
The county also oversees five dog parks and three skateparks.
At the Northdale session, an addendum survey indicated a strong preference for more senior-oriented programs, disc golf fields, and hiking and walking trails. There were also requests for more open green spaces with picnic areas and additional recreation centers.
“A big part of our discussion of the master plan is: Do we build new parks or do renovate old parks? When you start looking at the number of parks we already have, how about we invest into the older parks,” Dougherty said.
Ideally, the department would like to receive at least 50,000 responses from county residents, Dougherty said. That would present the department with a realistic view of upgrades and improvements needed for each neighborhood park.
“Our total (budget request) will be a large number,” he said. “Individually, there might be one park where it’s $200,000 to upgrade and another park might be $700,000,” he said.
“A lot of people just think about the big parks that we have, but we’ve got such small individual parks that just a little (upkeep) will go a long way,” he added.
If the Hillsborough County Commission approves the master plan’s budget, Dougherty said the department is facing at least another 100 meetings with various focus groups and individual communities before any systematic changes are made.
“It won’t be something where a budget passes and we’re ready,” he said. “It will take a little bit of time, but at least the focus and priority of where the money is going will be there.”
One possible alteration to the park system is the creation of specialty parks, such as tennis and basketball centers.
Adding specialty parks would eliminate the need to repair damaged tennis and basketball courts in each neighborhood park, Dougherty said.
“Do we continue fixing everything that’s in every park, or do we create what we call specialty parks? That’s one of the drastic changes when you start looking at creating the master plan,” Dougherty said.
The department also is looking into several technological upgrades, such as the addition of electronic charging stations (powered by solar energy) and wireless Internet access in certain designated areas within each park.
“Technology — we know that’s the future,” Dougherty said.
Enhanced safety and security measures, including solar-powered security cameras and emergency security call boxes, will likely be a significant focal point within the master plan.
Recreation ID membership passes are another safety measure the department has researched.
“This will take a little more time to implement, but we should have some kind of understanding and regulation of who’s coming and going,” Dougherty said.
“On the short end, it helps us to know who’s interested in what kind of (recreation) classes. To me, it’s strictly a security issue — no bad people want to let us know that they’re coming into the parks,” he said.
The public meetings in June followed up similar sessions held earlier in the year by the Hillsborough County Conservation and Environmental Lands Management department, which oversees 10 regional nature parks, including Lake Park and the Upper Tampa Bay Trail.
Its master plan will include specific recommendations on policies, procedures and practices as it relates to natural resource management, regional park facility uses and upgrades, and outdoor recreation.
Upgrading the park system has a significant effect on quality of life and property values, Dougherty said.
“When it comes to budget times, people see parks and recreation as not a necessity,” he said. “But, when you think about…what people take part in — youths in little league programs, having a picnic in the park — most people’s only connection to the local government is through parks and recreation.”
Share your thoughts
Do you have an opinion about future recreational priorities in Hillsborough County? An online survey is available for citizens to weigh in. Visit PlanYourParks.metroquest.com.
Published July 13, 2016