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Recreation: Planning new parks - Will they build them? Hearings offer answers

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway understands why residents are skeptical about plans to build new recreation facilities.

“I’ve been like a lot of you,” he told a crowd gathered at Waccamaw High School for a public meeting on the facilities last week. “All my life, I’ve seen plan after plan. I can name the engineering and design firms that went through this same process and told us what [facilities] would look like. We’ve all been awaiting these things for a long, long time.”

But they’re finally on the way, he promised.

“We’re not dreaming about a facility and guessing where the money is coming from,” he said.

The county’s capital improvement plan has funding incorporated for construction of projects, and operation and maintenance costs. That will make all the difference, he added.

The meeting in Pawleys Island was one of three held throughout the county last week. Two more will take place in western parts of the county tonight.

One of the primary concerns of residents at meetings on Waccamaw Neck and in Georgetown was when they would see facilities open. Bob Mimms, who lives in the Pawleys Island area, asked if a pool planned at Parkersville would be finished in time for his teen son to enjoy it.

The answer he got wasn’t what he was hoping for. A pool isn’t part of immediate plans. The most recent draft of the capital improvement plan calls for funding for a pool to be available in 2014.

“I thought we’re already being taxed for this,” Mimms said. Hemingway explained that taxes are one component of funding for facilities. But the funding sources are spread out over a number of years and don’t allow all the projects to be undertaken at the same time.

Someone asking when a dog park in Litchfield might open got better news than Mimms. That’s expected to be part of the first phase of projects to be completed in development of a community park at Litchfield, where most of the projects slated for Waccamaw Neck will go.

At least four baseball fields in Georgetown should be complete by the spring of 2012, in time for two Dixie Softball World Series tournaments scheduled to take place there that summer, Georgetown residents were told.

Spending so much money on new facilities during difficult economic times was another concern of Waccamaw Neck residents, as were noise and light that might spill over from facilities into neighboring residential areas.

None of that seemed to worry those at the Georgetown meeting.

“I’m really encouraged by the questions here tonight, because they’re all focused on using the park and how we can better provide core services,” Hemingway told the Georgetown crowd. At Pawleys Island, “we were more in a defense mode with how we’re going to make sure these facilities don’t cause noise and light pollution or heavy traffic.”

There were questions at both meetings about traffic, most centering on how vehicles would enter and leave parks. Plans for the Litchfield park show entrances off Petigru, Parkersville and Gilman roads, as well as Stables Drive.

Someone at the Georgetown meeting pointed out that many of the people accessing facilities there will be walking or riding bikes and asked about possible means of transportation to the park. County officials said that’s something to be considered later.

People in both groups also questioned security measures at parks and wanted to ensure that all facilities will be accessible to all county residents.

In Georgetown, folks had questions about why a location outside the city was selected for Eight Oaks. Hemingway said it had to do with finding enough land with the amount of high ground needed. Land available within the city didn’t meet the county’s needs.

They also asked whether the park would have space for festivals or concerts and were told the area around a lake in the park would be a wonderful site for events.

Georgetown residents Cynthia D. Hazel and Harriet Evans said they were excited about new facilities.

“You travel and see all the nice parks and things in other communities, but we’ve never had anything like that here,” Evans said.

It’s been a long time coming, the women added, and they’re glad their families will have the chance to benefit from the facilities. They said they were also happy with the way county officials fielded comments and concerns from residents.

Clifford E. Ford of Georgetown has 27 grandchildren. They all live outside the county, so are unlikely to use the new facilities, but Ford said he’s still looking forward to seeing them complete.

“I’m just excited about the whole thing,” he said. “Hey, I’m 61 years old and I might even start back playing softball.”

Glenn Wilson Sr. of Hagley, who attended both meetings, said he thinks the plans might be too ambitious for current economic times, but he was impressed by them and is glad county officials are planning for future growth. For too many years they “planned for today” only and that’s why the county doesn’t have facilities it needs now.

Mimms, though he didn’t go easy on county officials with his questions and comments, was also ultimately positive about recreation plans, thanking county officials for their efforts.

“This is going to make a big difference in our lifestyles in Georgetown County,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

Plans for new park facilities can be viewed online at georgetowncountysc.org.

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