Survey shows parks are crucial in Morrisville

jblack@newsobserver.comJuly 11, 2014 

— People in Morrisville want more walking trails and greenways, and they say they’re willing to pay for public recreation, preferably through user fees.

The town conducted a survey over four weeks starting in March to gauge residents’ thoughts on the town’s parks and recreation facilities and programs.

Findings from a survey come at an important time for the town’s parks and rec department, as it seeks national accreditation.

Overall, people rated the town well when it comes to recreation. Of the 804 survey respondents, 80 percent said they were satisfied with the aesthetic quality of the town’s parks. Seventy-three percent said they were satisfied with the level of maintenance of recreation facilities.

It’s great to see that the community values recreation, said Matt Leaver, recreation superintendent for Morrisville.

“We want to make sure we’re engaging the community’s interest, attitudes and opinions,” he said. “We want to make sure we are good stewards to the community.”

Morrisville has put a focus on parks recently. The 25-acre Church Street Park, formerly called RTP Park, is set to open by the end of the year. The $5.2 million park will feature the Triangle’s first regulation-size cricket pitch.

There are also plans to renovate or relocate the Morrisville Aquatics and Fitness Center and to expand Morrisville Community Park.

Plans are also in the works for Northwest Park, which could include a walking trail, fitness station, picnic shelter and two playgrounds off Parkside Valley Drive.

“The (survey) assessment confirms what we know: People love parks,” said Morrisville Mayor Mark Stohlman.

Some respondents said they want more recreation opportunities. Sixty-nine percent said there is a need for activities for the whole family, while less than half – 47 percent – said they were satisfied with the variety of recreation programs.

The survey results will be put in a master plan that could guide town leaders as they plan for future parks or recreation facilities.

Meanwhile, the parks and rec department will create a three- to five-year plan on leisure and recreation programs and services in its effort to gain accreditation through the National Recreation and Park Association.

“It will say our operations are up to national standards and tell the community we are delivering the highest quality,” Leaver said of accreditation.

As part of the process, a team from the national department will visit Morrisville to review operations, and a hearing will be held at the national parks and rec conference in October.

Stohlman said he is pleased with the town’s gains when it comes to parks.

“It happens to be coming together on a visible front,” he said. “Morrisville does everything we can to provide, and a lot of it has to do with contributions developers have made to have green space.”

“The projects we have right now are highly reflective of the needs and interests of the community,” he said. “It’s great to see us on the same page.”

Bonds vs. fees

The town has used voter-approved bonds in the past to pay for park projects. The Church Street Park is paid for from a 2004 bond. Upgrades to the aquatics center and Morrisville Community Park are part of a 2012 bond.

In the survey, 81.4 percent said they agreed public recreation should be paid for with user fees, while 65.7 percent agreed the money should come from bonds. Less than half agreed money from property taxes should be used.

Additionally, 83 percent of respondents said they were willing to pay “reasonable user fees” for recreation. Eighty-one percent said people who don’t live in Morrisville should pay a higher fee to participate.

A little more than half of respondents said they would support higher user fees to help pay for facility maintenance.

“When people think about amenities and what the government provides, parks space is the No. 1 thing we are about,” Stohlman said. “It’s a wonderful asset the town provides, and the benefits can be seen years and years to come. It makes a better community.”

Black: 919-829-4835; Twitter: j_black13

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