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October 2019
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Our paid-off but inadequate park is a disservice to county

Earlier this month county officials and the public gathered to celebrate the fiscal accomplishment of paying off our $3 million community recreation center at Roper Park, now named for Commission Chair Robert Jones. It was a fitting honor; Jones was the then sole commissioner who undertook construction of that 30,657 square foot building which is well used.

There were a lot of good points made that day about Pickens being debt-free. Our county is 99 percent debt free and has a very low millage rate compared to other Georgia counties. Hoorah!

But, specifically with the park, we’d argue the county has been too fiscally conservative; that the single, outdated park with limited fields, an antique swimming pool, walking track, playgrounds remains inadequate for this county with 30,000 people. 

Over the past two decades, we’ve traded the quality of life a vibrant park system offers for pinched pennies.

Celebrating the debt-free, but meager park system here is akin to a jubilant 30-year-old crowing about not having a mortgage while living in his parents’ basement.

For counties, just like people, there is a time to spend and a time to save; a time to pay-off debts and a time to sign the dotted line to acquire more than you can write a check for.

In 2004, the county paid consultants WK Dickson to do a needs study on recreation in Pickens County. Note, this was before the community center was built which addressed a few of the issues they found.

The report begins by stating, “the master planning process started after a public recognition that current recreation facilities seem to be inadequate and there is no plan in place to address future growth.”

The consultants compared Pickens to similarly-sized counties, talked with officials in recreation and government and held at least one public meeting.  They found Pickens stacks up dismally against other counties in north Georgia and maybe the entire state in terms of parks. 

Most surrounding counties have more than one park. Here, “the existing park is an abandoned airport. The site in an inappropriate shape, long and narrow and has had few upgrades since it was built 35 years ago,” stated the report in 2004. Now, 15 years later, we still only have one park even though the population has grown some. Attempts at establishing simple playground parks on the east and west ends have gone nowhere. And most troubling, there is still no plan to address these shortcomings.

That report from 2004 concluded the most effective way for Pickens County to address deficiencies is to build a new park. It called specifically for a new 200 acre park in the county to go along with the existing Roper Park.

We got a very nice community center, while ignoring the larger need.

Parks produce quality of life. Quality of life ties into the people and businesses you attract to your county. We have gone the cheap, safe, conservative route for the past two decades and the results show. Perhaps our dormant downtown and lack of “things to do around here” tie directly into our frugal approach to parks.

One speaker at the celebration of the paid-off community center extolled the fact that it is crowded and hard to find parking. Consider that a clue that we need more of this kind of county-provided recreation. 

There’s a fine line between being frugal and being a miser. We urge the county commission to loosen their purse strings and give us parks we can be proud of for their amenities and appearance and not just because they are paid for.