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Want a new park? Take the survey

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By Lee Helscel

With the worsening economy, those who dream of an additional park in the Corridor have all but given up hope of anything materializing. But an empty pocketbook for buying land is nothing new for the folks at the Marion County Parks and Recreation Department, and they’ve learned to search for the few state and federal dollars that are available nowadays.

As a result of their diligence, there is a news brief in this week’s paper that tells us there may yet be hope. The parks department has announced a survey designed to tell them if there is enough public demand for more public recreation in the community.

We already know the county’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan calls for much more public green area than has been set aside. Liberty Community Park on S.W. 103rd Street Road is the only public park. And its possibilities for expansion are limited because of its 11.5-acre limitations.

Sholom Park off S.W. 80th Avenue is actually a privately-held preserve that is open to the public.

What the staff at the parks department need to document is the demand for and probable use of  such a facility. It’s all part of the information needed to apply for a federal grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

This fork in the path has come about partly through the efforts of Parks and Advisory Council (PARC) members being on the lookout for sites in the county’s communities. And they’ve had an eye on an ideal parcel in the Corridor that not too long ago land boom prices had skyrocketed out of reach. But times have changed, and the price may be closer to earth.

The Corridor’s PARC member, Pat Gabriel, describes the property as 40 acres surrounded on three sides by the Greenway. It’s off S.W. 103rd Street Road, near the rear entrance to Oak Run. The access road to the site is fronted by Forest Glen.

The plot is unique in that the land could be a gateway to trails in the section of Florida Greenway that passes through the area – offering many times the recreational acres in the park itself. There is also ample room for ball fields, playgrounds for various age groups, concessions, picnic pavilions, and nature-related educational activities – and parking.

But no plans have been drawn. The process is in the beginning stages and county officials need to know what residents think.

This survey is short and designed to gather specific information. First asking yes or no about the need for “active recreation (i.e. sports fields)” in the S.R. 200 area.

A checklist of 13 amenities is presented: ball fields and courts, walking trails, playgrounds, and other suggestions. The last question gives four fee levels residents would feel reasonable to pay for organized sports program participation for children in grades K-8.

That’s it – survey’s over. Click “Done” and you’re done. The survey will close Feb. 16.

The LWCF S.R. 200 Property survey is only available online. The address is given as http://www.marioncountyfl. org/Parks/Pr_default.aspx.

It may be just as easy to visit the county Web site at www.marioncountyfl.org and click on “Departments.” Find “Parks and Recreation” and the link will take you to the Parks and Recreation Department Web page and a button for the S.R 200 survey.

While many of our readers may not have use for a lot of the park’s possibilities there would be just as many ways for them to enjoy such a public space – and a place to bring grandchildren when they visit. If you were still a “parent”, would you want ball fields where you would have paid for the kids to play in youth baseball, football and soccer leagues – and have an occasional picnic? The Corridor has a large population of growing families who need some wide-open spaces.

If a deal can be reached with the owner there would be no call for taxes to purchase the property. In order to make it work the federal grant would be about half the price and the balance would come from the last of the county’s Pennies for Parks money.

If the land can be set aside, its development can be planned and paid for in the future. If the community is interested, Lee Niblock and the staff at Parks and Recreation have a window of opportunity to start another park in the Corridor.