Johnston County is starting to map its long-term vision for parks and recreation.
A sports council that is part of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau is conducting an inventory of the county’s recreation facilities, said Donna Bailey-Taylor, the bureau’s executive director.
“This is a facility inventory of what’s out there in the county for parks and recreation,” she said.
The inventory will do more than catalog gyms and ball fields. The sports council will also look at passive recreation such as open space along the Neuse River, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail through Johnston County, bike trails and forests such as Howell Woods, owned by Johnston Community College.
The Visitors Bureau, which promotes tourism in Johnston, hopes the inventory will answer some questions.
“How do those fit in for tourism (and) how do they fit into recreational needs for residents?” Bailey-Taylor said.
After compiling the inventory, the sports council will draft a master plan for the county’s recreation needs, including new and expanded facilities, Bailey-Taylor said.
“This is to look at facility needs, facility growth and demand based on current levels of use and where communities feel like we’re going to grow, because obviously Johnston County is a growing county,” she said.
The council hopes to complete the plan in the next 12 to 18 months. But first it has a few chores to do. It is asking the county’s towns to adopt resolutions in support of drafting a master plan. Later, it will seek a consulting firm to draft the plan and use grant dollars to pay for it. The plan will seek community input – from both users of recreation facilities and the towns and community groups that own them.
One aim is to help towns and community groups market their facilities to bring people to Johnston County, Bailey-Taylor said. For instance, if two towns have large swimming facilities, their proximity could attract a swim tournament.
Tim Johnson, director of the Smithfield Parks and Recreation department, is excited for the master plan. “I think it’s a tremendous idea and probably really long overdue,” he said.
“Basically, what it becomes is a planning tool for the future,” Johnson said. “Where growth is going to be and then what kind of facilities are needed. And you’re able to compare yourself to other counties your size, what you’ve got to offer.”
Aside from attracting out-of-town visitors, a more unified vision for parks and recreation can ultimately improve quality of life, Johnson said.
Wendy Lomonaco of Princeton likes to take her 3-year-old son Levi to Smithfield’s Community Park, which often has more children out playing than the parks closer to her home.
Lomonaco said she hopes the plan will look at more facilities for younger children.
“Just more for the kids, more activities,” she said. “I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I’m always looking for something to do, something for them to keep them busy.”
Larry Bailey, director of the Clayton Parks and Recreation Department, said long-range planning is important.
“When you’ve got a county growing as ours is, as one of the fastest growing in North Carolina, you need to definitely update (a master plan) at least every five to seven years,” he said. “And that’s just to see where the growth is going and are the recreation needs being met for the citizens that are moving here and all the communities.”