The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department recently was honored as one of the best such departments in the country.
Last month, Mecklenburg County Park and Rec was awarded the Gold Medal Award by the National Park and Recreation Association, the highest honor for which a department can be recognized.
Park and Recreation’s efforts encompass all of Mecklenburg County, but some of the unique facilities in uptown and its fringe neighborhoods certainly accentuated the range of services the department offers.
The special services provided by such facilities as the Revolution Park Sports Academy, the Mecklenburg County Aquatics Center and the recently developed Little Sugar Creek Greenway are some of the department’s jewels.
“The Gold Medal Award is the highest recognition that our national organization can give,” said Jim Garges, Mecklenburg Park and Rec Director. “It’s really a statement of the type of programs and the types of services the department is able to provide. It tells the residents that it uses best practices and provides high-quality services and programs.”
One of four finalists for the award in 2010 and 2011, Mecklenburg County won the Gold Medal Award in the Class I (population more than 250,000). The process started in March with the submission of a 15-page application.
Park and Recreation staff members completing the application were required to answer 11 questions based on information from 2007 to 2011. They had to provide statistics on the department’s budget, land use and facility use.
In the document, staff described the department’s promotion of “environmental and cultural protection, preservation, and restoration” by detailing its efforts to protect the 24 miles of shoreline of Mountain Island Lake.
Detailing a recent project that was uniquely tailored to the needs of the community, staff highlighted the Revolution Park Sports Academy, home to the Charlotte Boxing Academy and the Charles L. Sifford Golf Course Clubhouse. The facility houses youth boxing, wrestling and martial arts programs and the Charlotte Flights youth track and field program.
Some of the information provided in the application’s answers came from the 10-year master plan adopted by Park and Recreation in 2008. Among its highlights are survey results in which county residents expressed their recreational interests and needs.
“Greenways and bike trails are the number one amenities on our surveys by the public,” said Michael Kirschman, Park and Recreation deputy director. “And that matches nationwide trends.”
One example of the public’s desires is the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. With sections already complete, the walking, running and bike trail eventually will connect uptown Charlotte with the South Carolina border.
In spring, uptown will add another facility: Romare Bearden Park. The 5.2-acre park in Third Ward will host informal play areas, gardens and walkways.
“People know about the big buildings (in uptown),” said Garges. “But they also associate with Freedom park and the greenway system, and it makes them much more attached to where they live.”
As one of four park and recreation departments that finished in the Class I final four, Mecklenburg County was required to submit a 12-minute video as part of the judging. You can view the video entry on YouTube under the title “Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation ‘Something for Everyone.’ ”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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