Mother Nature has blessed Western North Carolina with beauty and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. We are fortunate.
However, there are some who have neither the time nor the resources to travel to a national forest, state park or greenway in S.C. For them, easily accessible parks and greenways could offer the same opportunities.
The benefits to both physical and emotional health which come from outdoor exercise is beyond doubt. Weight loss, lower blood pressure and stress reduction are all documented results of active time spent in outdoor open space. Exercise is one of the least expensive ways to stay healthy and prevent chronic illness. Studies also show that proximity to a park or greenway determines how often one uses the amenity. The closer the park or greenway is to a neighborhood, the more often residents will use it for walking, biking, strolling the baby or active family time.
As a member of the NC Parks and Recreation Authority, I have had the opportunity to visit many counties and municipalities around the state and talk with Parks and Recreation staff about current and planned projects.
The enthusiasm and vision of professional park personnel is inspiring and is driving a strong movement to provide active park use and greenway development for their citizens. In fact, visionary leaders in other counties see that providing quality recreation infrastructure is a truly egalitarian use of taxpayer monies – providing outdoor recreation to all citizens regardless of age, gender, income level, athletic ability or race. Noted landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, also embraced this thought.
Dollars spent on parks and recreation represent an investment in citizen well-being. But currently, the investment for Buncombe County citizens does not compare so well to other counties in North Carolina. Per capita spending is about $11.50 per person in our county compared to $16 to $25 per person in many other counties of similar size. The 2018 county budget for Parks, Greenways and Recreation was less than half of 1 percent of the entire budget. Up until 2014, there was a citizen advisory board for Parks and Recreation. It no longer exists, and there is no formal process for citizen input to this important division of county government.
Many relocating businesses are searching for communities where quality of life amenities are available for their workforce. If economic development is a county priority, as it should be, then leadership must address more than tax incentives and available real estate. Businesses that are being recruited should see Buncombe County as a place where individuals and families can recreate together outdoors in safe, accessible and inviting open space.
In our rapidly developing county, preservation of open space for public use and enjoyment is essential. So, what are our recreation priorities for Buncombe County? An up-to-date Parks and Recreation Master Plan, developed with citizen input and which promotes wellness and quality of life, would create a shared vision for future recreation opportunities for citizens in all corners of the county.
Ann Babcock is a member of the NC Parks and Recreation Authority and a board member of Connect Buncombe, a nonprofit greenways advocacy group.
Original article courtesy of Asheville Citizen-Times.