Rec center initiative seeks input on next steps
by Anna Oakes
The Y for Watauga County Initiative seeks public input on its next steps after two analyses did not positively conclude the viability of a YMCA in the county.
High Country Recreation, a new nonprofit, has spearheaded the initiative, which began with an informational meeting in October 2012. Initiative leaders now seek additional input from the community through a survey titled "Y Initiative for Watauga County -- What Now?"
Bob Conklin, CEO of the YMCA of Catawba Valley, visited with interested citizens last fall and in January of this year.
In February, the Y of Catawba Valley board of directors paid for a site analysis to determine if the area would support the Y membership model. The analysis did not positively conclude the viability of a Y membership model for Watauga County.
In April, at the request of Scott St. Clair, Brian Lowe and Conklin, a second site analysis was conducted, expanding the penetration to communities not included in the first analysis. This analysis also did not positively conclude the viability of a Y membership model for Watauga County.
"At this point, the board of directors of the Catawba Valley Y is unable to go forward in the planning for a Y in Watauga County because the threshold of 1,400 memberships has not been definitively proven to be viable," a June 20 message from Lowe stated.
The message stated there are now two options remaining:
1) to commission a third, more substantial site analysis performed by PB&A Marketplace Intelligence at a cost of $16,000; or
2) to conclude a Y model is not viable based on the initial two site evaluations, thus reducing options for a first-rate recreation facility down to a county recreation center.
Initiative leaders say they wish to work together to fulfill residents' desires for a new pool and recreation center, which has been outlined in the Watauga County Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Systemwide Plan 2010-2019, the 2006 Comprehensive Plan Update for the town of Boone and the Watauga County Recreation Plan from 1999.
St. Clair said that thus far, the small number of responses to the survey are behind pursuing a county recreation center if a YMCA is not an option.
"We would love as much feedback as possible," St. Clair said.
To take the survey, visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CPXB8VZ.
Greenway funding spared
In other recreation-related news, supporters of two greenway projects in Watauga County are breathing a sigh of relief after the passage of N.C. House Bill 817, "Strategic Transportation Improvements."
The Senate gave greenway supporters a scare when it added language to the House bill barring the N.C. Department of Transportation from providing financial support for bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects. Advocacy groups said this would eliminate $1.2 million in state matching funds for trail projects required for $4.5 million in federal grant awards, resulting in the loss of the federal funds, as well.
Locally, the Brookshire Park connector and Middle Fork Greenway projects have both received Federal Highway Administration awards that are contingent on 20 percent matches from NCDOT bicycle and pedestrian funds.
However, as reported by Watauga Democrat on June 9, the bill provision was later amended in committee to include an exception for projects for which funds have been obligated by Oct. 1, 2013.
The provision now includes this sentence: "This limitation shall not apply to funds authorized for projects in the State Transportation Improvement Program that are scheduled for construction as of Oct. 1, 2013, in state fiscal year 2012-2013, 2013-2014 or 2014-2015." The bill has since been ratified with this language intact.
"(It) looks like both of the greenway projects for which we have contracts with NCDOT are protected by this; the state funding for the match will be available to us," Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman said June 24.