DestinationFAY: Ready for some fun?
By Earl Vaughan Jr.
FORMER PRESIDENT HERBERT HOOVER grossly overreached years ago when he promised a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage when Americans were facing economic turmoil. Michael Gibson, who heads the Fayetteville and Cumberland County Parks and Recreation Department, isn’t making similar promises when it comes to local recreation and sports opportunities, but he’s doing all he can to stretch the local recreation dollar and make offerings of sports and leisure as accessible as possible.
Over the last 10 years, Gibson said the city and county recreation program has focused on what he calls walkable communities, giving as many people as possible in the city and county some kind of recreation option that is within walking distance of wherever they call home. They include small parks, like half-acre Woodrow Park, or much larger ones, like 110-acre Mazarick Park and its tennis center and trails.
One of the best ways the parks department has been able to grow its options is through a long-standing partnership with the Cumberland County Schools that allows the parks department to use one of the school system’s biggest assets, undeveloped land. The parks department takes over land not being used by the school system, thus saving the expense of having to buy it and using parks money to construct new park spaces without having to purchase land in developed areas.
In the Montclair subdivision at Montclair Elementary School an example of this kind of construction is in process. The parks department is adding a playground park with walking trails and a shelter that has been nothing but a plot of unused land for the last 15 years. Head over to the splash pad at Kiwanis Recreation Center this summer.
“It’s called extending taxpayer dollars,’’ Gibson said. “The same people who pay taxes for the school system are the same people who pay taxes for recreation.
“For us to be able to go out there and increase the livability of people in those communities is a tremendous plus.’’ Gibson stressed that growth in the parks system is not devoted entirely to options for youngsters, although there is plenty going on there. The parks and the recreation opportunities they offer are also geared for the county’s older population.
“We’re adding new senior recreation centers where they have therapy and exercise pools,’’ he said. They are also providing facilities for what’s become the latest rage among seniors looking for an alternative form of recreation, the sport of pickleball.
Gibson describes it as a combination of tennis and table tennis, laid out on an asphalt surface and played with a ball that’s not as lively as a tennis ball.
“It’s a tremendous phenomenon for seniors,’’ Gibson said, adding that people in their mid to late 30s are also showing increased interest in the sport. Recreational opportunities aren’t limited to urban areas in the county Gibson said. There has been a concerted effort to add options throughout the county, including places like Linden, Stedman, Godwin and Wade.
“We’re adding amenities so people can enjoy outings with splash pads,’’ he said. “We’re adding new pools so people can have access and not have to travel 10 miles to get to them. Based on the master plan, I think we’ve done what they’ve asked us to do.’’
In addition to building new facilities, the parks staff is tearing down older parks that have been around 15 or 20 years to add seating and new playground units where needed.
Looking to the future, Gibson said an area he hopes to focus on is Cumberland Road and Hope Mills Road.
“We have some parks there, but we don’t have a recreation center,’’ he said. “That’s one of the things we’re going to be working on over the next two or three years to fill that void.’’