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Creating parklands in Jeffco gets boost with recreation plan

Commission hopes for Oak Mountain and smaller parcels


By Virginia Martin
News staff writer Ten or 15 years from now, Jefferson County could have parks with huge expanses of green, rolling hills cut by crystal-clear streams and decorated with walking trails, amphitheaters and other entertainments. Community groups that operate smaller parks also could get a hand from the county to continue maintaining their own relaxing and recreational corners. The County Commission took another step in that direction last week when it adopted a comprehensive recreation plan. In its budget, the commission had set aside more than $1.5 million for parks - $1.1 million for land purchase, $350,000 for parks maintenance and $100,000 as _matching money for community groups working on parks. County Office of Planning and Community Development Director Jim Fenstermaker said the county can create a parks system eventually for about that amount of money each year. His department studied existing parks, then developed the overall plan based on national recreation guidelines and park systems in other places. He said the plan is the first step toward a countywide parks program, but one that will have to be funded every year to reach completion. "We're at the very beginning, but I see it as a very important, progressive step," he said. His recommendation to the commission was not to duplicate efforts by cities in the county but to concentrate on providing parks for large groups of citizens and help communities willing to work on their own parks. The plan recommends establishing more than 13,000 acres of regional parks, often large parks developed around special natural resources such as rivers or mountains and serving the entire population. Oak Mountain State Park is an example of such a park, the plan says, but it is in Shelby County and often crowded, showing the demand for recreational areas. Regional parks don't have to be on the scale of Oak Mountain. There are almost 1,000 acres dedicated to regional park purposes in Jefferson County, at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Jimmy Morgan Zoo, Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, East Lake Park, Sloss Furnaces and Vulcan Park, the plan says. It does not give specific plans for future regional parks. Next on the list would be district parks of 100 acres to 1,000 acres in each of the five commission districts. Those would focus on "passive" activities such as picnicking, fishing, canoeing or nature walks.

Parks
From ~age 27 A But they also could include "active" -recreation such as ball fields, the . plan states. To establish regional and district _ .parks, the plan recommends the "County buy land as it becomes available and develop it when needed or there is enough money to do so. Fenstermaker said land purchases could begin as early as this spring. The commission also should consider setting up a non-profit foundation or working with an established one to allow people to donate land for parks and take tax credit for the donation, the plan says. In its community park program, the plan recommends the commission develop a system to equalize ~he work it would perform at each park maintained by a community group. The community groups could decide whether they want their share of county assistance in maintenance or construction projects. The plan also outlines a matching grant program in which the county . would award cash grants or labor equal to the money or value of labor and materials a community group donates to improve its park. The plan recommends naming a parks coordinator to manage the ommunity parks programs. An aide to Commission President Mary Buckelew was named this year to coordinate maintenance at parks and could fill that position, Fenstermaker said. The Office of Planning and Community Development could plan land acquisition and develop master plans for the regional and district parks, as well, the plan says. If the plan is carried to fruition, a Parks Department with a director and five managers, one over each district, would be needed, the plan says. Commissioner Jim Gunter, who oversees Fenstermaker's office, said the plan pulls together the disparate parks development and maintenance attempts the county has made and "brings organization to our parks system."

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