High Country Recreation, a local non-profit committed to promoting recreation in our community, urges our county commissioners to plan for and build a community recreation center in Watauga County. Our group engaged with the YMCA to see if they could bring one of their facilities to our area, but a community analysis by the YMCA revealed that their model would not be feasible. Because the YMCA is not a viable option, the county needs a long-term vision to make a recreation center a reality for our community.
An indoor recreation center has been identified as a need in our community for decades and has been part of the long-term planning for the county and town during that time. A survey from ASU in 2010 showed overwhelming community support for an indoor recreation center. Of 26 counties the same size as ours, only two counties do not have a community recreation center (either a YMCA or a public facility): Watauga County and Franklin County. At least the residents of Franklin County (northeast of Raleigh) have access to three YMCAs just across the county line in three different directions. Watauga County’s lack of an indoor recreation center makes us an anomaly compared to other counties our same size – we need to fix that!
How would a community recreation center benefit Watauga County?
First, it would enrich the lives of the citizens in our community. Particularly given our local weather issues, an indoor recreation center would give people across the age spectrum exercise opportunities year round. Access to yearly recreational opportunities would also allow our Recreation Department to increase its programming for local children, including summer camps and snow day alternatives. This will have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of our citizens. In addition, it will give people in the county an important gathering spot to strengthen the social bonds that make our community vibrant and strong. Think about all the interactions that happen, for example, at the softball fields when the weather is nice. An indoor facility would allow that to happen year round.
Second, it would strengthen the economy of our county. A community recreation center would help our county retain and attract small businesses. Studies have shown that small businesses have identified quality of life as the most important factor in their location decisions, and the number one quality of life issue is recreation (specifically, in order, national/state parks, local parks, community recreation centers). A community recreation center should be a vital component of any future economic development plans. In addition, an indoor facility has the potential to generate significant economic activity from youth sports events. Youth sports tourism was a $7 billion industry in 2013 (for example, Kingsport, TN generated almost $10 million in economic activity from youth sports events in 2013). An indoor facility would allow our community to be part of this economic engine.
For all these reasons, I urge the county commissioners to plan for and build a community recreation center for Watauga County. If you think this is a need in our community, please take moment to contact the county commissioners in support of this idea (their emails are on the county website). If you want to be more involved, please email us at [email protected].
Scott St. Clair, MD
President, High Country Recreation