By David Pendered
The way Becky Kelley sees it, Georgia’s new proposed statewide recreation plan aims to serve a vast majority Georgians who want to relax or play public parks. And a new mapping feature provides pinpoint accuracy in locating a park and its amenities.
“Well over 60 percent of the state’s residents consider themselves recreators,” said Kelley, of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “State government has a role in recreation. When people are in a city, county or state park, they feel they’re getting their money’s worth.”
Kelley noted a new online mapping feature provided by DNR will help folks locate and enjoy their parkspace. The site includes a tutorial that shows how to locate parks near any given address in the state. Once the park is located, the site provides an inventory of amenities, such as walking trails, tennis courts, basketball courts, etc.
“The mapping tool is really cool,” Kelley said. “Until it was started, there was no where you could go to find where recreational lands are located. Now, you could pull up a park where you could go horseback riding. Or, you could look for a park down the street and pull up if you can get to it by bus. It shows what type of activities are there. With local help to keep it fresh, it will be an evergreen product going forward.”
The website was created as part of DNR’s effort to update the five-year update to the Georgia Plan for Outdoor Recreation, 2017 through 2021. Other components of the year-long update effort include a statewide telephone survey of about 1,100 residents, public meetings to gather feedback, and coordination with a number of agencies with an interest in parks and recreation.
The result is a document that Kelley presented last week to the board that oversees DNR. Kelley serves as director of the State Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Kelley moved to DNR almost 15 years ago, after working in DeKalb County to develop DeKalb’s parks and recreation programs.
The proposed plan now is out for public comment. The board expects to adopt it at its Oct 25 meeting and send it to Gov. Nathan Deal. Deal is to certify the plan was developed with public engagement and send it to the National Park Service.
Once NPS has approved the plan, NPS will use it to provide federal funding to Georgia to expand, improve and rehabilitate parks at the state, county and city level. The money cannot be used for routine maintenance and operation. The money comes from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which gets its funding from permits charged for offshore oil drilling.
The LWC fund has provided Georgia with more than $88.6 million over the last 50 years, according to the proposed plan. Georgia was required to match the federal funding at the level of 100 percent, meaning that Georgia has invested more than $176.6 million in parks funding at the state, county and city levels. DNR runs a competitive grant program to disburse funds to local governments.
One thing that struck Kelley was the strong support among residents for their public parks and amenities.
The survey showed a majority of residents would be willing to pay even more to enter a state park. The fee is now $5 a visit, up from the $3 fee implemented by then Gov. Zell Miller to prop up the state budget during a recession.
Survey results show that about 68 percent of survey respondents answered a question about their willingness to pay increased park fees. More than half of respondents said they were willing or very willing to pay higher fees, and an additional 17 percent said they were somewhat willing to do so, according to the proposed recreation plan.
The survey of about 1,100 Georgians was conducted in September 2015 for DNR by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.
There’s no talk at this time of raising fees. But the survey responses are a clear indication of the value that Georgians put on their parks and greenspace.
Recreation also has economic value, according to documents that support the proposed plan. Outdoor recreation creates:
- $23.3 billion a year in tourism economic impact;
- 231,000 jobs;
- $7 billion in wages and salaries;
- $1.4 Billion in state and local taxes.
“The demand for outdoor recreation is going to continue as the state continues to grow, Kelley said. “Outdoor recreation important to the quality of life, as well as the economic well-being of the state. All levels of government should be working to advance well-maintained parks at every level because it’s good for our state.”