Editorial

Visitors Bureau doing recreation needs a favor

November 8, 2013 

It is not county government per se, but it is the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, which is close enough.

In Johnston County, recreation has long been the responsibility of towns and community groups, which build the fields and run the programs. Yes, the county has awarded grants, mostly for equipment, and it even put recreation dollars on a successful bond referendum some years ago. But county government hasn’t built the first park or run the first sports league in Johnston, so it’s good that the Visitors Bureau is taking an interest in the county’s recreation needs.

In case you missed our recent story, a committee that is part of the Visitors Bureau is cataloging the county’s recreation facilities – its ball fields, parks, trails, greenways, etc. From there, it will create a master plan for the county’s recreation needs going forward.

The committee’s goal is partly financial – it wants people from outside of Johnston County to spend their money here. The committee figures, for example, that ball fields can attract tournaments whose players and their families will spend money on hotels, restaurants and shops.

Ball fields, because they draw crowds, would likely draw the most tourist dollars; indeed, Smithfield’s Community Park, with its many fields, already plays host to regional tournaments. But passive recreation – such as biking on greenways or paddling on the Neuse River – could draw people too if properly developed and promoted.

Towns and counties, by the way, like tourists because they spend money locally while demanding little in return. Their children, for example, don’t attend local schools, which are expensive to build and operate.

But ball fields don’t build themselves, and while towns and community groups have been quite successful in finding money for recreation, an aggressive recreation-development program might be more than they can afford on their own.

At that point, county commissioners will have to decide whether they’re willing to spend county money to make Johnston a destination for recreation tourists. In the meantime, the Visitors Bureau deserves credit for laying the groundwork for a county emphasis on recreation.

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