After analyzing data from survey responses and listening to citizens at public hearings, officials with Hall County Parks & Leisure Services have unveiled their latest Master Plan, which should guide them in park development for the next decade.
Becky Ruffner, Public Relations and Marketing Manager for the agency, said the plan was presented publicly for the first time last week to the Hall County Commission.
"When we did the survey process, we did that in a couple of ways," Ruffner said. "We did an online survey, and we had about 1,900 people that responded and replied to that survey. Then, we held five public meetings, as well, in various places around the county."
The result was a 167-page facilities plan, a plan that Ruffner described as "fluid."
"That's primarily because we have such growth in our county, especially on the southern end, so what we were looking at was what the projected growth will be over the next 10 years and what are some of those services that are needed and what are some of those services that people want," Ruffner said.
Ruffner said the research found a large growth in the senior citizen population in the county, noting that seniors are moving to Hall County to retire and also people are living longer, making for a larger senior adult population. In addition, the research found an influx of young professionals into the county. Creating facilities that satisfy both populations will be a challenge.
"One of the things that came out of the plan that surprised us was one of the top requests was for more trails and green space," Ruffner said. "What we're seeing is a trend...of people looking for things to do that are not necessarily competitive-type sports...that was the largest request that we got."
Another suggestion that was at the top of the list was the opening of a fourth community center in the county, perhaps in the West Hall area. Ruffner said a number of survey respondents suggested a senior center for the south end of the county - again, a reflection of the growth of the senior adult population.
Ruffner said parks officials were also interested to see that residents who live in the Flowery Branch and Buford areas often travel across county lines to use parks facilities in both Hall and Gwinnett counties, depending on program offerings.
"We've had some Gwinnett County citizens that come to Mulberry Creek Community Center because we're offering a particular type of class or program that they're interested in," Ruffner said. "There's a lot of back and forth...we've got citizens on that south end that are traveling across that county line to use particular facilities that we don't have here."
The next task, according to Ruffner, is to prioritize the needs and wants as outlined in the Master Plan. She said there are several steps the agency will take.
"First of all, what's in place now that's very easily doable - that we could do in short order?...The next thing would be to look at those recommendations that perhaps become a project, and so how do we prioritize those things?," Ruffner said. "That's really the jewel of a Master Plan. It is very fluid so that it allows the county to look at what those recommendations are and based on a number of things - like budget, time and need - what are those things that we can do right away and what are those things that...might take a little bit more time."
Follow this link to see the full Hall County Parks Facilities Master Plan.