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Rec park move could create opportunities

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Traveling team tourneys could bring significant revenue into Carroll, but members of the recreation committee suggested Tuesday that the county would need a new and larger park to host those games.

Myron Dalton spoke for the recreation committee at the regular October board of supervisors meeting, and suggested a new recreation center, developed in stages, and the goal of adding new outreach for adults and seniors.

After years of talk about how the existing rec park near Interstate 77 and U.S. 58 is too valuable for economic development to expand the recreational facilities there, Supervisors' Chairman Sam Dickson revealed that the county board has been looking at the possibility of acquiring other tracts of land for a new park.

The recreation idea also led to approval for moving the Carroll County Agricultural Fair from the VFW lot in Hillsville to unused land near the wholesale building at the Southwest Virginia Farmers' Market.

Dalton, after thanking the supervisors for appointing members with a wide range of talents and experience to the rec committee, said those members are combining their talents to plan for providing services to the children, adults and seniors in the future — as well as making the rec park an economic boon for Carroll.

The large number of children involved in Dixie baseball and softball leagues, basketball, sandlot football and cheerleading shows that the recreation department has been successful in providing programs for youth, Dalton noted. The rec committee doesn't want to change that.

"As we plan for the future, we want you to know that our desire is to keep the sports program strong and continue to expand and grow with a focus on our youth," Dalton said. "However, we don't want to just focus on our youth."

The committee wants to expand on the adult programs — such as church league softball and basketball and coaching opportunities — and reach out to seniors, who have been kind of overlooked in the past, he said.

Commission members believe the people served by the rec department should reflect the faces of the community, Dalton said. But there are good reasons to add programs for people who live outside of the county — economic ones.

"We believe that a healthy county parks and recreation department would be a great asset to the county and to you guys as you are doing your best to attract businesses and industries," he said.

New businesses will consider recreational opportunities in deciding where they locate, he explained. Having the right facilities could make a great financial impact on the county.

There's "a big movement" across the United States of coaches who form their own teams and travel to play in weekend tournaments, Dalton explained. That happens in many places, and Carroll County has a great location to host such tournaments.

Weather is a factor, as coaches look for a place that will offer cooler summer days for their teams to play, he said. Given the chance to hold games in hotter Charlotte, N.C., or the cooler mountains of Southwest Virginia, Dalton expects coaches would be interested in bringing their teams here.

"So our location is perfect and our weather is perfect for this opportunity."

Dalton quoted numbers to the supervisors to underline the potential economic impact.

The rec committee members figure that holding 18 weekend tournaments from April through September could attract 15 teams each, he said. At the end of the year, that adds up to 270 teams participating.

A reasonable $250 fee per team could generate more than $67,000 to spend on umpires, concession stand staff and field maintenance, he said.

Assuming 12 children and three coaches per team, that's 15 families per team associated with the tournaments, Dalton continued. If 270 teams came a year, that could mean that 4,050 families could be coming to Carroll for the games.

Should each of those families stay in a hotel one night, spending $70 each, that would generate $283,500 for the season.

Should they spend $60 a day on food for both Saturday and Sunday, that amounts to $486,000 for the year, Dalton said.

"And if before leaving Carroll County they each put $50 of gas in their cars, the total for gas comes to $202,500," he added. "When you add all the numbers up that I just shared with you, the total comes $1,039,500 that is spent in Carroll County in a year's time.

"Now that might be high and we might not be able to start there, but that is a good number to look at."

Committee members expect that the parents that visit will see that Carroll County is a lovely and safe place to raise a family, Dalton said.

So what would county officials need to pursue this idea?

First of all, Dalton said, the rec park would need a permanent home.

It seems like every time the committee starts discussing improving the park, the potential sale of the land comes up, he noted. "It's the unanimous decision and desire of our commission to find a new permanent location, to move.”

The committee members stated their preference for having one central location with everything in one place, instead of a park with satellite facilities. Dalton said the committee is "interested in anything," though, as long as it's moving forward.

A new park would probably require between 75 and 100 acres of land, but the committee members understand that the project might have to start with a smaller tract and add to it later, he said.

As for what facilities would be needed, Dalton said the committee would want to pursue the idea in stages, starting with eight lighted baseball/softball fields with bathrooms and changing rooms, dugouts, concessions, press box, scoreboards, fencing and bleachers.

That many fields would give the rec department plenty of places to practice and play local league games during the week and hold the traveling tournaments on weekends, he said.

Committee members also envision a rec center with offices, three full-sized gyms, indoor walking track for adults and seniors, multi-purpose rooms, an exercise room and perhaps a kitchen for cooking classes, he said.

Phase 1 could also have lighted football and soccer fields and bring the soccer association into closer cooperation with the rec department. It could even include fairgrounds.

"Wouldn't that be wonderful? Dalton said.

Phase 2 could include a playground, picnic shelters, walking trails, a family sports area for casual games like horseshoes and volleyball.

Phase 3 could have, perhaps, a water park and tennis courts, he said.

The committee members realize that money is short, and it's impossible to please everyone, but there have been no improvements to the rec park in nearly 20 years, Dalton said. He hoped the rec department would be empowered to look into the idea further.

"Tonight, we long for our opportunity to 'blaze new trails' in Carroll County," he said, quoting a county slogan.

Chairman Sam Dickson said what to do with the potentially valuable rec park land has been kind of a dilemma. "But I guess I'm at liberty to tell — we did look at some land and it's been a few months back.”

Supervisors talked about a piece of property in closed session, he said. They also got someone to check to see if it was for sale, but it was not.

The supervisors are still looking ahead on this issue, Dickson said. "We have a definite concern for the rec, for the kids."

Supervisor Manus McMillian said this is where closed sessions come in handy.

If it got out that the county was interested in a piece of land, it could have compromised the county's position, he said. It's not that the supervisors don't want the citizens to be players in the decisions made.

The idea offered by the rec committee holds a lot of potential to bring new revenue into Carroll, Supervisor David Hutchins said. He knows that in Arlington, Texas, it's difficult to get hotel rooms on the weekends and the prices are higher.

"It's a whole carload of soccer moms out there, and there's a thousand people come in to play softball, soccer, whatever the sport,” Hutchins said. “And it's all because they've built a complex there."

That's an idea that could bring in revenue over time and help pay for recreation, he said.

The supervisors want the committee to continue their activities, Dickson said. "If you could add some [cost] numbers to it, that would be very beneficial."

Hutchins noted the county set aside money for a study, and he suggested going out to get requests for proposals to help get cost estimates.

He made that into a motion, and all the supervisors voted yes.

Supervisor Andy Jackson then brought up the success of the agricultural fair last month, and he thanked fair chairman and farmers' market manager Kevin Semones, county staff and volunteers for all their hard work.

Jackson said he'd like to see a place dedicated to county fair activities, but he didn't think it's a good time to buy land.

So, he suggested contacting the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to seek permission to use about 20 acres of vacant land near the wholesale building at the farmers' market for the fair.

It's not as big as the grounds at the Grover King Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1115, where the fair has been held for four years, but Jackson believes it's plenty big to host the fair.

As the state owns the land in question, Jackson believes that the county would need permission to use it, so he made a motion to ask for the state's blessing as a way to showcase Carroll's farmers and farm products.

The supervisors approved the motion unanimously.

Jackson also thought, as Carroll staff is involved in the fair, that it's time to make the fair a department of the county. This would also help with providing insurance coverage to the fair.

"I'm not asking that a huge amount of money be placed with this..." he said.

Jackson made a motion to create a leadership structure as a part of existing county departments.

County Administrator Gary Larrowe thought that this could be made up of staff from the farmers' market, recreation and tourism departments.

The supervisors unanimously approved this motion, as well.