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Ahoskie parks update

AHOSKIE – Members of the Ahoskie Town Council received an update on the city’s Parks and Recreation system at their monthly meeting on Tuesday.

A public hearing was held seeking comment on the proposed plan system-wide, but with emphasis on the Ahoskie Creek Recreation Complex (ACRC) and the adjacent Mitchell Park.

The town has partnered with The Wooten Company, the design-infrastructure planning group from Greenville, on developing a plan for the town’s parks’ future.

Monica Chevalier from Wooten led off the public hearing with results of a community recreation needs survey that asked respondents, among other things, the types of recreational activities they participated in (bicycling, walking & running, and nature-wildlife education were among the top-five). The survey  also asked about recreation programs respondents would participate in (youth summer camps, concerts & community events, bicycling, and skating/skateboarding were tops), as well as needed recreation programs in Ahoskie (year-round programs for kids, fitness & aerobics classes, walking/biking nature trails, baseball/softball, and basketball were the primary responses).

Ahoskie’s last system-wide plan was done a decade ago and in order to receive points for any grants from either the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) and Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA), the plan needed to be updated.

“Part of that update includes community involvement,” Chevalier told the Council. She added that sometime in the next two months the town Planning Board, the Parks & Recreation Board, and the local Kiwanis Club would also be providing input.

Chevalier said more surveys were returned for this update than the one conducted several years ago.  She added that respondents gave four-and-a-quarter out of five in satisfaction with the town’s Parks & Recreation Department as well as more than half the respondents saying new or increased user fees were needed.

The top issues concerning the Parks & Recreation Department it hopes will be addressed are: expanded trails and sidewalks for walking and biking with good safety features such as lighting; outdoor tennis and basketball courts at the ACRC; and an improved fitness and weight room at the Armory.

Chevalier said Wooten Company plans for the ACRC are to link the northern trail with the southern trail (Mitchell Park), increased paved parking, a splash-park near the large picnic shelter, and connecting.

“We would need to correspond with DOT (NC Department of Transportation) and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Act) for the design feasibility and permits,” Chevalier said.

Mitchell Park would eventually encompass five miles of nature trails (walking and biking) and an earlier proposal was to connect it with the ARCR via Camlin Street as an alternate route to a crossing either over or under the bridge on NC 42.

While Chevalier said a proposed skate park was not a top priority, a tennis and basketball court facility would be, according to the survey.  The proposal might even include a combination basketball court and tennis court called a “Sport Court”.

Clean Water Management Trust Fund, PARTF, along with NC Trails funds were some of the funding sources she suggested the town should explore.

Final plans for the proposed additions as well as funding would have to be presented to the Council at its January meeting so that the Council’s adoption would meet the PARTF’s Feb. 2 funding application deadline. Additional meetings would be held prior to the deadline date where other plans and proposals might be presented.

Councilwoman Linda Blackburn expressed concern over bicycle-ways being included in the Mitchell Park expansion.  Town Manager Tony Hammond noted that since the NC 42 bridge is due to be upgraded by NCDOT that the safest pathway would be an under-bridge bike-way.

“It would be paved and an extension of the paved trails currently along the creek-bank and going down underneath the bridge coming back up the other side and connecting with the walking trails over there (Mitchell Park),” Hammond noted.

Chevalier said that during discussions PARTF representatives liked the trail idea that connects the two parks.

“It was really something new that Ahoskie hadn’t presented before,” Chevalier said. “But now you have 70 acres of park (on one side) and about 40 acres on the other side and now you have 88 trails, and that’s one of the top needs of the community survey.  They were pleased with the idea.”

Hammond said that all three funding sources together might take care of the cost of the upgrade.

Councilman Rev. C. David Stackhouse expressed delight in the Splash-Park as well as the basketball court-tennis court (Sport Court) idea, but was reminded by Hammond there had been some concern from residents over late night use of the park.

“The bottom line is you set hours for the park’s operation and you close it at dark,” Hammond said. “With these additions you’re changing the structure out there.  There are places out there you can put a basketball court, there are places a water park can go, and there are places out there that the skate park can go.”

Blackburn said they should make sure that every citizen of the town has as much access to the ACRC as possible.

“It’s a good thing to focus on the town of Ahoskie, this park,” she said. “(The Park) is not causing a lot of problems, it’s not noisy; it’s other things they’re worried about.”

Councilwoman Elaine Meyers asked about the funding structure, to which Chevalier said PARTF does require a 50/50 or dollar-for-dollar match.

“But we’re going to try to keep the budget as low as possible and also seek alternative grants to couple here and fit into that match,” Chevalier contended.

Hammond said combining grants would offset some of the fund match.

“If we bring CAMA in as a partner with this project with PARTF funding then you have got to put things in there (the proposal) that CAMA will support,” reminded Hammond. “CAMA won’t support a basketball court, but they would support improvements along Ahoskie Creek.  You mix them all together and they could come in and (offset) what we’ve got to match with.  You bring them in together you’re not using PARTF by itself.”

With no other questions or comments, Mayor Brien Lassiter then closed the public hearing and asked for a motion to approve the proposed park improvement plan as presented.  Stackhouse made the motion which was seconded by Blackburn and unanimously approved by the Council.