Mecklenburg County manager: How we're making our parks better

Skateboarders navigate Little Sugar Creek Greenway.
Skateboarders navigate Little Sugar Creek Greenway. File photo

The Trust for Public Land recently released its annual ParkScore Index, measuring how well the 100 largest U.S. cities are meeting the need for parks. The index, which is based on several factors such as (but not limited to) park acreage, specific park amenities and walkability, listed Charlotte at 97 out of 100 with a total index score of 25 out of a possible 100.

The index is focused on the city limits of Charlotte. It looks at a limited number of amenities per capita (dog parks, basketball hoops, restrooms, splashpads, playgrounds and recreation/senior centers). It does not consider other provided amenities (pools, athletic fields, tennis courts, greenways, trails, etc.) or Mecklenburg County’s responsibility to provide recreational opportunities for the entire county, which also includes six towns.

The study considers the cumulative land holdings within the city limits of Charlotte. Due to its limited geographic scope, it does not include facilities such as the Mecklenburg County Regional Sports Complex in Matthews, Bradford Park in Huntersville, Jetton Park and Ramsey Creek Beach in Cornelius among others. Only 13,990 acres of the County’s 22,000 acres and amenities are included in this study.

The index shows that Mecklenburg County scores well with respect to park size and total acres but begins to fall short with spending per capita, amenities and access. With Charlotte’s rapid growth and lack of available land since the mid-1990s, the result is a park system composed of dispersed larger parcels as opposed to smaller parcels that are more densely located and uniformly distributed. As a result, only 28 percent of the parks located within Charlotte are, based on the measured criteria, considered to be within a 10-minute walk of residents.

Park amenities provided by Mecklenburg County are driven by community input through a public engagement process. The county also routinely surveys residents on what recreational amenities they would like to see and develops its Park and Recreation master plan considering that feedback. Currently, a significant amount of the feedback calls for more greenways and trails, highlighting the need for parkland connectivity.

In response to a rapidly growing population and the demand for more amenities, the county is investing heavily in Park and Recreation projects.

For Fiscal Year 2018, the department will have completed 17 park projects including three greenways, three improved nature preserves, five parks, two shelters, a tennis complex and the final phase of the sports complex in Matthews.

The Fiscal Year 2019 recommended budget includes $441,000 to maintain these assets and $190,000 to maintain new facilities opening in the coming year.

To further address the growing need for parks and recreational amenities in the county, the Board of County Commissioners last year approved the Fiscal Year 2019-23 Capital Improvement Plan, which includes $229 million for 27 Park and Recreation capital projects. These projects include two new regional recreation centers, (Eastway and Northern), 13 greenway expansion projects, funding for all Fiscal Year 2008 bond park projects, several facility renovation projects and open space land allocation of $6.6 million annually for the acquisition of parkland.

Mecklenburg County is committed to ensuring residents all over the county can enjoy quality parks, greenways, nature preserves, recreational amenities and opportunities.

Dena Diorio is Mecklenburg County manager.