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Little cash for parks, libraries

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

Because the economy is lagging, some activities are thriving during the tough times. “Libraries are busy” and “parks are busy.” They are places where people do not have to spend a bunch of money, said Pat Gabriel, S.R. 200 Coalition president, as she welcomed guest speakers from the Marion County Parks and Recreation Department and the Marion County Public Library System to the February meeting.

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Lee Niblock, Marion County’s Community Services bureau chief, spoke first about the latest happenings in the Parks and Recreation Department. A new spot Corridorians might be able to visit in the future is a 40-acre parcel near the Greenway and close to the back gate of Oak Run, which the county is hoping to gain for a new park. “We are actually getting an appraisal on it now,” he said.

The park would be “multi-purpose” and would be similar to Wrigley Fields with sports fields, playgrounds, picnic pavilions and concessions. If the county acquires the land, he said they would seek public input from the community about designing the park.

Niblock said he expects the appraisal to come in this week. If a price can be negotiated, the money is expected to come from a federal grant and matching Pennies for Parks funds.

As part of the grant-writing process Parks and Recreation is conducting an online survey to show community desire for an additional public facility. The survey only takes a few minutes and is available until Feb. 16. The link for the survey is http://www.marioncountyfl.org/Parks/Pr_default.aspx.

Down the road apiece, Blue Run of Dunnellon Park is moving along. The 32-acre park is slowly being developed, Niblock said. As part of the funding for the park, the City of Dunnellon was given about 10 percent of the cost of the property by the Marion County Commission.

Niblock briefly touched on Brick City, which was the first park to be purchased with Pennies for Parks money. Since the county has been given the property back to operate, they have cleaned it up and changed the name to Brick City Adventure Park. The approximately 32-acre park has a cave, a quarry and will eventually have equipment for rock climbing.

Though there is still some money left in the Pennies for Parks, grants, partnering, and private gifts have allowed the department to “stretch those dollars a little bit more,” Niblock said. Over the last six to eight years the program has received about $4.8 million in grants.

In addition, the department has had 109 acres of donated land in the past few years. One of those donated properties, and the largest, was Wrigley Fields, which is a72-acre park.

Julia Sieg, director of the Marion County Public Library System, talked about the abundance of visitors coming to the libraries. And there was good and bad news about Freedom Public Library.

“The good news is that folks are flocking to the library,” she said, “It’s bursting at the seams.” During the last financial year, Freedom circulated 215,000 items, which was up about seven percent from the previous year.

During the early voting month of October, the library had more than 40,000 people through the doors. To give residents a better idea of how busy the Corridor’s library really is, she gave them numbers from the Marion County Library Headquarters, it had 45,000 patrons the same month.

Sieg said the bad news for the library is “there really isn’t any end in site.” Though they have submitted paperwork for expansion of Freedom, they “are not shovel ready” and the possibility of construction money is slim.

In addition, the library system recently had to issue a hiring freeze, which means the overwhelmed facility will have to wait a little longer before its two vacancies can be filled.

The library system will hold the kick-off event for its One Book/One Community event at the public library headquarters on Feb. 21 at noon. The event will focus on the book, Mirage, which is written by Gainesville author Cynthia Barnett. Following the event, the writer will speak at Live Oak Hall at Circle Square Commons in On Top of the World Communities at 3 pm.

For more information about the Marion County Parks and Recreation department call, 671-8560. To learn more about the Marion County Public Library System, call 671-8551.