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Jackson commissioners moving forward with new parks in Whittier, Cashiers

By Kristin Fox

Providing more outdoor recreational opportunities for Jackson County residents was the focal point of discussion at this week’s work session of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners considered the next steps needed to move forward with two parks in outlining areas of the county.  

The commissioners have worked with the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department to address the current and changing recreational needs, issues, and demands of Jackson County residents. In 2013, the county developed a master plan to address the recreational needs of the county. Two projects, the Qualla/Whittier Park and the Cashiers-Glenville Recreation Center, are the remaining parks that haven’t been completed in the master plan. Commissioners are working toward completing these projects in the very near future.

Rusty Ellis, Parks and Recreation Director, presented the board with an agreement for their consideration with Equinox Environmental Consultation & Design, Inc. of Asheville for design services for the Qualla/Whittier Community Park. The county has used Equinox for several park projects including recently the Cashiers-Glenville Recreation Center project. The $98,000 contract with Equinox includes the cost for construction documents & observation, topographic survey, utility connection plans, site design and construction documents.  

The Qualla/Whittier park will be located near Smokey Mountain Elementary School near the intersection of Sunset Farm and Beck Branch roads. Plans include the development of 11.15 acres of the park which will include a 1/4 mile walking trail and other recreational opportunities. In addition, the plans for the park will allow for potential future expansion and development of the property that would allow joint programming with Smoky Mountain Elementary School.

The funding for the park will include allocations for a picnic shelter, playground, multiuser green space, paved entrance & exit drive and a parking area to accommodate 33 vehicles and three additional handicapped parking spaces.

The project is estimated to cost $2,013,525. The project funding will include $573,760 for paving and circulation, signage and amenities. The site grading and preparation is expected to cost $294,710. The playground area which will include play structure, surfacing, benches and bay swings will cost 287,190. The 26’ x 44’ picnic shelter with grills, table and trash cans is expected to cost of $177,030. Landscaping will be completed at the park for $174,465. A $50,000 contingency fund will be included in the ordinance. 

Commissioners agree the park will be an investment in the county’s future and fulfills a long-time need in this area of the county. The county was awarded a North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) matching grant for $500,000 given to local governments for parks, public beach access, and improvements in state parks. The statewide program helps local governments reach their park and public access goals to improve the quality of life in their communities.

In September 2021, Equinox prepared a master plan for the Cashiers-Glenville Recreation Center. The recreation center located at 355 Frank Allen Road is considered a community destination.

The Cashiers-Glenville Recreation Center complex is currently host to a wide variety of uses and facilities including the home of several non-profit organizations, county offices and the community library. The existing facilities on the property include two baseball fields with dugouts/soccer fields, public pool, public restroom facility and two playgrounds.

The main purpose of the master plan is to provide a plan for the recreation center to become a central hub for recreational activity for the Cashier-Glenville area that is pedestrian friendly, accessible to all, provide options for outdoor recreation and is well connected to the community. The 23.78-acre site is owned by Jackson County and is in close proximity to the central village core.

The project is estimated to cost $1,111,691. The park ordinance includes appropriations for site preparation, sidewalks and pathways, signage, tennis court, picnic tables, trash and recycle receptacles, benches, general plantings and splash pad. The splash pad is the highest expected appropriation at $445,766. Site preparation for the project is expected to cost $235,000. A tennis court is a planned for the park at an estimated cost of $115,000. A contingency fund of $45,758 is included in the total appropriation for the project.

“What I like personally is the long lasting impact that this park will have to our community,” said Chairman Brian T. McMahan. “This proposed Cashier’s park plan fits well with the scope of what will be a long lasting impact to our community. It is an outdoor recreational component that involves health and recreation. It involves several lasting impacts that improve the quality of life for the people of the southern end of the county.”  

“I think there is no better way that we can spend funds that would be so long lasting, not only from a physical standpoint but from the health and the improvement to the quality of life for those residents; it will be huge,” he added.

“I agree, and I also think about the mental health component,” said Commissioner Gayle Woody. “We know that outdoor activity, no matter what age a person is, greatly improves their mental health.” 

The board will take action on the proposed Equinox contract and grant project ordinance for the Qualla/Whittier Park and the capital project ordinance for the Jackson-Glenville Recreation Project at their upcoming regular meeting on November 15, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. at the Justice & Administration Building, Sylva.

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