As an organization focused on service and continuous improvement, the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation (MCPR) Department recently contracted with an independent consultant to help prepare a new comprehensive master plan known as Meck Playbook. A major component of Meck Playbook was to execute a full assessment of our inventory of parks, nature preserves, indoor facilities and greenways. The results of this assessment, outlined in the April 20 edition of the Charlotte Observer, corroborate what department and county leadership were aware of — that many of the department’s older facilities need reinvestment.

Since the formation of MCPR in 1974, the department has grown quickly. The growth was compounded by the acquisition of the City of Charlotte’s park system as part of a city-county merger that occurred in 1992. In the ensuing decades, MCPR found itself faced with the challenge of balancing two competing priorities — land acquisition with the construction of new amenities, and the ongoing maintenance of older, established parks.

Over the past several decades, the County Manager’s Office, with the support of the Board of County Commissioners, invested heavily in the acquisition of new parkland, to proactively set aside land for the purpose of recreation and stewardship in the face of the region’s rapid growth. Since 2009, the department has opened several new parks, greenway reaches and indoor facilities, and also acquired over 3300 acres of land for future parkland development and open space preservation.

This focus on growth and development does not mean that the county has neglected its older parks. In fact, nearly half of the last two five-year capital improvement plans were dedicated to significant reinvestments in existing parks and facilities across the county. Furthermore, all parks in Mecklenburg County have remained open, safe and functional despite the noted aesthetic gaps identified by the assessment.

Mecklenburg County is aware of the need for concentrated reinvestment in the facilities rated “D” and “F” listed in the Observer article and is taking several specific actions to address the needs outlined therein. These include the following:

Beginning in 2017, Mecklenburg County introduced a program for deferred maintenance. This annual funding allocation of approximately $4.5M is set aside for infrastructural improvements at parks identified as having a need. The program has allowed for critical improvements to parking lots, restrooms, playgrounds, fields, shelters and more at parks in all areas of the county.

The growing recognition that older parks in Charlotte’s crescent areas need significant investment caught the attention of the BOCC. It voted to provide incremental funding for projects focused on the complete transformation of parks in neighborhoods with an identified need, both from a park access and equity lens. Most recently, these investments included $3.85M in 2019 and $2M in 2020. Among the projects funded by these investments are the current transformation of Enderly Park as well as planned improvements at Albemarle Road Park.

The public demand for more greenway miles is well-established in both the results of ongoing needs assessments as well as from resident input. In response, the county launched an “Accelerated Greenway Initiative” in 2019. Currently underway, the initiative aims to build 30 additional miles of greenway by 2023.

The action steps described herein are ongoing and will be supplemented by additional investments. The specifics of these investments will be driven by the results of the assessment, which will be revisited regularly going forward, as well as by resident input. Mecklenburg County and Park and Recreation Leadership looks forward to the opportunity to work in partnership with county residents to plan, prioritize and execute such projects over the next several years and well into the future.

Dena Diorio is the Mecklenburg County manager.

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