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Consultants point to interest in skate park as they begin work on rec master plan

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The public demand for a new skate park is apparently just one of the insights that a group of consultants has gleaned as they prepare to draft a new master plan for Burlington’s department of recreation and parks.

The community’s interest in a skateboard-oriented facility was among the more noteworthy revelations that the New England-based firm BerryDunn rolled out this week when it shared the preliminary results of its labors with the members of Burlington’s city council.

During a city council work session on Monday, BerryDunn’s James Mickle touched on a number of crucial discoveries that he and his colleagues have made since they began work on the new master plan in October.

Mickle informed the council that, as a prelude to the plan’s composition, his firm has conducted a flurry of public workshops, focus groups, and “stakeholder” interviews in order to “identify gaps” in the recreation department’s offerings. Mickle said that these sessions, when coupled with the results of an online survey, have provided feedback from some 3,800 individuals to buttress the new master plan that his firm will ultimately craft for the city.

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Mickle noted that this input has revealed a significant desire among area residents for a city-sponsored venue to accommodate skateboarders, in-line skaters, and similar enthusiasts. In addition to this skate- or all-wheels park, BerryDunn’s research also found substantial support for an indoor rec center in west Burlington – a much-discussed priority of the city council itself – as well as some interest in a specialized court for beach volley ball.

 

Skating in to acceptance
For a long time, the prospect of a skate park in Burlington had been an utter non-starter with the city’s elected leaders. As recently as 2021, Burlington’s city council was skittish enough

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about the whole concept to turn down an offer of free land along North Main Street to serve as the site for a new skate park.

Lately, however, some of the city’s elected officials seem to have made an abrupt flip from their traditional posture on a municipal skate park.

Two months ago, Harold Owen, Burlington’s mayor pro tem, brought this idea back to the fore when he raved about a “pop-up” skate park that had spontaneously sprung into existence in Raleigh. Owen’s enthusiasm for this short-lived gambit was echoed by mayor Jim Butler, who went on to opine that the same concept is “worth exploring” in Burlington “whether we create a venue or whether it’s temporary.”

The mayor’s receptiveness to this proposal also lifted the spirits of fellow council member Kathy Hykes.

“It’s amazing,” Hykes told the rest of the council. “I believe this [idea] has come around.”

Parks placed
The public demand for a skate park may, in the end, have been somewhat expected for Burlington’s municipal leaders. But the city’s top brass seemed much more taken aback by some of BerryDunn’s insights about their existing facilities.

As part of their overall appraisal of Burlington’s recreation infrastructure, the firm’s consultants conducted on-the-ground assessments of the city’s municipal parks. According to consultant Dave Peterson, these walk-throughs revealed striking differences between the city’s “high end parks” and those that the consultants suggested haven’t received the same level of investment from Burlington’s leaders.

Peterson went on to present some comparative rankings of different categories of parks, which he had evaluated based an “objective” assessment of features like playgrounds and hiking trails.

Among the larger venues with citywide appeal, Peterson gave top marks to Burlington’s City Park and much lower ratings to Springwood and North parks. Meanwhile, in the category of neighborhood parks, he assigned the top slot to Willowbrook Park, whose budding new arboretum has been funded, in large part, by the nonprofit New Leaf Society.

Peterson’s rankings proved a bit disappointing to Hykes, who lamented the low grade that North Park had received despite the city’s substantial investment in its pool and other attractions.

Meanwhile, consultant Teresa Penbrooke observed that BerryDunn’s inquiries have underscored just how important these existing facilities are to many of the community’s residents. She added that the big takeaway from her research has been the unspoken “mandate from the public” to “maintain what you have.”

“The quality of some of those components are slipping,” she added, “just because of [shortages in] staffing.”

Penbrooke went on to inform the council that she and her colleagues will use the results of their research to hammer out a new master plan for the recreation and parks department, whose previous marching orders expired in 2022. Penbrooke told the council that she and her fellow consultants would return in June with a draft of this document.

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