Goat Island Park Greenway Cramerton, NC

Embracing Change in Parks and Recreation

Recap of McGill Minute Podcast, Episode 3

Jim Ford Planner
Jim Ford, Planner and Designer on the Land Planning and Recreation Team

A resurgence of interest in parks and recreation is taking place, while cities and towns are struggling with how to address safety, lost revenues, and staffing issues in parks and recreation departments, as a direct result of COVID-19. During the 2020 Parks and Recreation Month, McGill’s land planning staff interviewed municipal clients across North Carolina to better understand in what ways the world has changed. In the latest episode of McGill Minute, we took a further look at how the pandemic has affected parks and recreation. Gary Jackson, Business Services Manager, interviewed Jim Ford, Parks Planner and Designer, diving into how parks and recreation directors are adjusting and refocusing their departments to meet the needs of the public, while ensuring the health and safety of their communities.

This new way of life has produced new challenges for parks and recreation departments to wade through. Those doing well are adapting to the situation by quickly identifying creative solutions and working to better understand the limitations imposed by social distancing and the desires of the public for safe park programming options. We are seeing the increased necessity and importance of these services and amenities, as community members are demanding more services and utilizing their passive recreation facilities and open spaces in greater numbers. In Hickory – where one of McGill’s regional offices is located – community members turned out in mass at council meetings in support of maintaining parks and recreation staff jobs, despite cancelled sports programming. At the same time, greenway projects are moving forward at breakneck speeds.

Some communities have been quick on their feet and have used creative solutions to adjust and meet the needs of their community members. Not only have many municipalities been able to shift staffing in order to prevent furloughs, but some have exceeded expectations in parks and recreation innovation. The City of New Bern has managed to keep many facilities up and running by using online registration systems to limit capacity and ensure that social distancing measures are practiced. The Town of Wendell has also rapidly adapted by converting programming to online registration, as well as offering new and exciting classes, like nature education and survival skills.

Jim suggests directors take stock of their current offerings and work to better understand the current needs of their residents through additional surveying and community engagement. This is an opportune time to update current master plans and prepare for the pursuit of grant funding. Municipalities can find assistance in these matters by reaching out to land planning and recreation firms (like McGill) and non-profits (like the North Carolina Recreation and Park Association and the National Recreation and Park Association), as well as funding programs (like NC State Parks PARTF, KaBOOM!, Keep America Beautiful, and more).

The future breeds hope for parks services, amenities, and facilities. Jim ends the podcast reiterating the importance of recreation during this time of uncertainty. Parks directors must continue to seek public involvement through surveys and planning, in order to determine the comfort of the community. This pandemic has brought temporary and, inevitably, some permanent changes, but with the openness for ingenuity and reorganization, communities can continue to evolve and grow to safely meet everyone’s needs.

Listen to the Podcast here:

Learn more about our land planning and recreation team by reading our interview, “Striving to Help Life Thrive,” with Kurtis Durrant who is also a planner on the team.

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