When Linda Thornhill isn’t studying economics in Collier Park in Ramona, she is in the park playing with her grandchildren.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Thornhill said of the eight-acre county park between Sixth and Seventh streets.
It’s safe and it has good equipment, she explained.
But Collier Park is among county parks struggling to stay open in the down economy, county representatives said during a meeting in Ramona Community Center last Thursday evening.
San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation along with consulting partner GreenPlay, LLC held the community forum to gather information and discuss ideas for sustaining the parks in the future.
“Public input is the biggest component,” said Renee Hilton, assistant director of San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation.
This is a critical time for parks, said Hilton. The economy is in a slump, she said, and sales tax and property tax revenues are the funding sources for parks and recreation. “We need to come up with something else to avoid these loses,” Hilton added.
Even with District 2 Supervisor Dianne Jacob convincing the other county supervisors to add $360,000 to park funding for the 2010-11 budget year, allowing the parks to stay open at their current hours, that funding only bought one year, said Hilton.
The forum was the first step in a proposed year-long process that involves visiting all unincorporated communities to assess what services to provide at parks and what services to provide where.
“The project team starts with you,” said Karon Badalamenti of GreenPlay LLC to the 20 people in attendance. The purpose of the meeting is to create a vision for the parks, she said. “What do the parks look like in the future? What does the community need?”
The philosophical underpinnings of this work will be the values the community holds dear, Badalamenti said.
“We want to start thinking more entrepreneurial, said Badalamenti.
Those in the room quickly reeled off some ideas for adding revenue, including charging for permits to pick up dead wood and better park marketing to increase tourism.
The forum also provided a chance for attendees to discuss any issues they see affecting the parks. Juvenile crime, connectivity of trails and accessibility were some of the problems noted.
“A lot of these issues we know, but it’s good to hear from you,” said Hilton.
“It’s the first step to getting feedback,” Badalamenti added.
The Colorado-based consulting company was hired by the county at a cost of $140,000 from the county General Fund, said Hilton.
GreenPlay LLC will aid the county in the collection of statistical data through online and mailed surveys and from organized community forums. An enhanced summit involving all unincorporated communities is expected to take place Aug. 10 to 12, with another scheduled for Aug. 30 and Sept. 1. No central location for the summits has been determined.
GreenPlay LLC is expected to provide a full report of its findings to the county some time in March 2011.
Updates regarding the meetings may be found at sdparks.org.