Manatee Parks Opens Dialogue for Master Plan



Manatee County currently boasts 70 park locations encompassing nearly 28,000 acres including athletic facilities, preserves and community parks—quite a bit of green space to manage, maintain and utilize. In an effort to update facilities and accommodate ever-changing demographics, Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources will host three town hall meetings in November to give area residents and stakeholders a final opportunity to contribute their ideas to the 15-year Parks Master Plan.

“We’re going back to the community,” says Danny Hopkins, Recreation Division Manager for Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, “to talk about what our findings are and present our validated strategic initiatives.” One of the biggest focal points are the athletic facilities, which, in addition to being heavily used and congested by local residents, are also utilized for hosting regional and state athletic tournaments. Hopkins says it’s about trying to find a balance that allows the county to “keep a high-quality standard but at the same time address all of the current demands.” The Master Plan will also address the county’s environmental land holdings, focusing on responsible access to help reduce the human imprint on waterways and preserves. “These are very special parks, and they have to be viewed that way,” he says.

To help fund the refurbishment of facilities and the continued preservation of natural spaces, the county implemented a half-cent infrastructure sales tax. “The tax is a blessing,” says Hopkins, as many of the county’s facilities were built in the 90s and are near the end of their lifecycle, in some cases requiring a complete demolition and rebuild.

Parks and preserves offer obvious economic impacts to the county, attracting everything from vacation and nature tourism to out-of-town athletes in search of great weather and championships. In addition, parks systems are one of the many things that businesses look for when choosing a headquarters, as the systems factor heavily into an area’s quality of life index. But for Hopkins and the county parks staff, “it’s not just about a single swing set or a place to play ball,” he says. “I see it as connecting communities and developing the concept of health and well-being.”

The first meeting will be held at Central Library on Nov. 6 at 7:30pm. On the 8th and 9th the meetings will start at 6pm but will be hosted at the Parrish YMCA and John H. Marble Recreation Complex, respectively.

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