Use summer days to research parks needs

Charlotte-Mecklenburg is growing relentlessly urban with each passing year. As that happens, it becomes increasingly critical for a community to have green spaces where an expanding population can retreat to walk, bike, or simply frolic.

That need is behind a request local voters will confront on the ballot in November. They'll be asked to approve borrowing as much as $200 million in bonds to build new recreation facilities ranging from greenways to aquatic centers.

The final amount hasn't been decided by county commissioners, and won't be until after a public hearing in September. Yet if the total can be whittled down a bit, this effort is worthy of voters' support – particularly the money earmarked for greenways

Long, scalding summer days are the perfect time for Charlotteans to do their homework on this issue. Go ahead. Sample what Charlotte-Mecklenburg has to offer. You'll see the need to expand those resources firsthand.

An example? Head over to McAlpine Creek greenway and you'll find a trail busy with bikers, runners and walkers. The 6-mile round trip from end to end is a satisfying jaunt. But on weekends it can be wall to wall – evidence of how well it's used and of the need for alternatives.

Here are the kinds of facilities proposed for the recreation bond money.

$43.5 million to build and expand greenways. This one is important. It would add 26 miles of trails, including the first leg of Sugar Creek trail in western Mecklenburg County and a 3-mile looping trail at City Park, proposed for the Charlotte Coliseum site.

$38.9 million to build and renovate 13 aquatic and recreation centers.

$60 million for land acquisition that would house new parks down the road.

One important note: The public would not have to borrow so much for parks if the county or city would require developers either to dedicate land or pay a fee for recreation facilities. Either local government could enact a provision in the subdivision ordinance pegged to the number of subdivision lots developed. It's like an impact fee, but does not need the N.C. legislature's approval. Many cities in North Carolina already have such a measure, including Raleigh. It defrays a huge capital cost.

Park bonds are not the most high-profile issue. Nor is building trails a particularly glamorous public undertaking. But investments in public recreation resources such as greenways improve the quality of life in a city and pay off in the long run.