City Council discusses Parks and Recreations Operations

City Council member CJ Rylands discusses Parks and Recreations position.

BUCKHANNON — The Buckhannon City Council and Upshur County Planning Commission held a special joint meeting on Wednesday. The meeting was informative and collaborative. Besides the familiar faces of those on City Council and the Planning Commission, previous town leaders and prominent figures were in attendance, including David McCauley, former Mayor of Buckhannon and Dr. Joseph Reed.

Mayor Robbie Skinner, stated at the opening of the meeting, “The purpose of this meeting is to see what we want out of our parks and if there is the need to bring someone on to our city administrative staff to oversee the parks.” Following a moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance, Skinner turned to floor over to Planning Commission President Dr. Susan Aloi.

Aloi opened up by sharing the purpose of the Planning Commission. “The Planning Commission is charged with a development of a comprehensive plan that was then submitted to City Council who approved. There is a section in the plan required by state code regarding recreation. We also completed a survey in the community and received over 750 responses of what people would like to see in Buckhannon,” she explained.

Aloi noted that a lot of responses mentioned recreation and therefore, a Parks and Recreation Subcommittee was developed. Curtis Wilkerson is the chairman of the subcommittee and a member of the Planning Commission. Wilkerson verbalized, “One of the things we did was to assess the facilities and take pictures. The next thing we looked at was the utilization. We started to come to the conclusion that we have all these really great assets but a lack of focus and planning across multiple generations and activities. We wanted to take a look at long term plans of what the City of Buckhannon could be. The parks fall under the streets department, which is already overworked, and our parks are not at the top of the list and there are a lot of street and other city infrastructure that need attention. We haven’t had a constant set of eyes on our parks. There are picnic tables with tree limbs falling down on them, unusable horseshoe pits and roofs that need repair.” Pictures were also available of our local parks and the areas that need addressed.

Council member CJ Rylands noted when referring to our parks, “This has been a reactive rather than a proactive approach… We want to diminish the load on the street department so they can accomplish their mission and at the same time enhance our parks to improve the quality of life for our citizens. We also want to increase the utilization.”

There was much discussion on what would be most beneficial to all departments and individuals when developing a plan to improve our parks. All in attendance discussed pros and cons of various options. Initially it was discussed to have only a part-time director to oversee our parks, however it was pointed out by others in attendance that in the off-season would be the time that would be spent to plan for the next open season, make significant repairs and perform grant writing to provide funding to improve the recreational areas in Buckhannon. Parks are generally in-season starting in May and closing for off-season in October. Discussion also explored increasing volunteerism to address repairs such as group painting projects.

Mr. Carl Weaver was present and acknowledged for his hard work the past year in working as a park attendant. Weaver spoke of issues, including homeless people and drug issues in parks as well. Additionally, Weaver noted it is not an easy task and would require a team of people to effectively run and improve our present parks.

Dr. Reed expressed his own observations, stating that West Virginia Wesleyan College is Buckhannon’s largest attraction. In addition, he made request to council to consider remodeling Jawbone Park and having adequate restrooms available.

Former Mayor David McCauley spoke on the issue, stating, “We need to focus on accessibility and inclusivity.” He also noted that he would recommend a full-time director to promote planning and work on funding. Furthermore, McCauley said working on “inter-connectedness” of our parks and recreation system would be beneficial.

Overall, it was noted that the City of Buckhannon is highly ambitious to develop and implement a plan to improve our recreational areas. Multiple ideas were also considered including exploring opportunities to fund creating a skate park, splash pad, pickle ball, ice rink and sled riding areas. City Council mentioned possibly using sales tax to cover costs of projects but other funding would still be required. It was also reported that grants may be available to the city for recreational projects. What’s more is that the consensus was that more utilization in our parks improves quality of life for our citizens and will also deter drug use and vandalism.

Upon the end of discussion, Mayor Skinner noted that he would recommend that City Council create a Parks and Recreation Board, appoint members and move forward. “I think this is a great first step. We will explore the quick tangibles that we can achieve, then mid-range line items we want to tackle and then long-range end of the road planning of what we want to see happen with the parks,” Mayor Skinner concluded.

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