Parks and Rec seeks additional funding

·3 min read

Aug. 3—The Waynesville Recreation Center has long been a staple for many seeking to maintain a healthy lifestyle in Haywood County, and as the parks and recreation department transitions to new leadership, the advisory board and interim director are working on ways to bounce back from the pandemic and get the department back on track.

Rhett Langston, long-time director of the Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department, retired in May. Langston came to Waynesville in 2006 and bolstered operations at the Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department through multiple initiatives, including additions to the recreation park — like the all-abilities playground, disc golf course and a second dog park — updates to rec center facility programming and securing accreditation for the department from the nationally recognized Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies.

"One of the primary reasons I was hired was to market the rec center and bring up membership numbers and revenue. Prior to COVID we did pretty well with that," Langston said.

The pandemic hit the recreation department to the tune of more than $200,000 in lost revenue for the rec center. Though revenue has trended back up in the past year, staffing issues and slow financial recovery are putting pressure on the operation.

"Right now we're open for limited hours because we don't have the staff, but that's not where we want to be. We want this place to be as busy as possible," said Luke Kinsland, interim director of Waynesville Parks and Recreation.

Kinsland said he has some ideas to improve both the rec center and the outdoor recreation amenities, but for the most part, the department lacks the funding and the staff it needs to make those things happen.

Among those ideas are after-school programs, child care at the rec center, special events at the pool, drainage improvements, updates to the tennis courts and more adult sports leagues.

In June, a bridge placed over Richland Creek gives access to about nine more acres of recreation area that Kinsland said will soon be developed.

Eva Hansen, chair of the parks and recreation advisory committee, said updates to the Comprehensive Master Plan for parks and recreation could help them secure funding for some of the department's hopefuls. The plan was part of the Waynesville town budget until last minute cuts were made.

"To be successful with outside grants we need to have a current plan," Hansen said.

Kinsland was selected to serve as interim director while the town seeks to fill the position. Langston hired Kinsland as a lifeguard in 2008 and promoted him to aquatics supervisor in 2015.

Town Manager Rob Hites said the position has been open since May and will remain open until filled.

"It's surprising that we haven't had more applicants," Hites said. "We want to get the best candidate, and we will have it open until we find the right person."

The parks and recreation advisory board has discussed a few ways to increase funding for the department to offset the lack of funds in the meantime.

"There's been some discussion about increasing membership fees for people living outside the town limits. However we are cognizant of the struggles that people have. We don't want to make it more difficult to access the services," Hansen said.

Kinsland spoke to the town board of aldermen July 26 to ask for written approval to go before the county commissioners to request funding.

The county used to give a yearly amount of $70,000 to Waynesville's parks and recreation budget — since many residents of the county outside of the town of Waynesville use Waynesville's recreation amenities — but that funding ceased in 2009. About 60 percent of rec center members come from outside the town limits.

"If the county government agreed to just give us an equal amount of money that they were doing in 2008, accounting for inflation, they would have to give us $86,491 today," Hites said.

The county passed a recreation master plan of its own in May.

Kinsland plans to go before the Haywood County Commission in August.