The public had the opportunity last week to weigh in on Lane County Parks’ plans for the future of local parks and recreation areas.
In its fourth and final leg of a community engagement tour across the county, Parks Department staff stopped at Cottage Grove on May 25 to provide a general overview of the state of the county’s parks and spark public interest. ‘public opinion. While the conversation revolved around parks in general, the two-hour meeting also included public comments specific to Baker Bay Campground in Dorena Lake.
The community input meetings, which lasted in areas of the county pertaining to Florence, McKenzie River and Eugene-Springfield parks, have been conducted as the Parks Department hopes to introduce a five-year, $6 million local option tax in the November ballot.
“We are at a tipping point in our parks system,” said Lane County Parks Superintendent Brett Henry. “We have worked extensively with community-led advisory groups over the past few years to chart a sustainable future for Lane County parks and we continue to seek feedback from people who visit our parks.”
Entrance meetings asked the audience what improvements would be imdemonstrate accessibility and access, what recreational features are most desirable, and what educational elements would enhance the visitor experience.
The Concentration Park in the Cottage Grove, Baker Bay area includes a 48-site campground, a playground and a 27-berth marina with accommodations for dry mooring. There is also a designated swimming area, a boat launch and two large group day facilities with power and water.
The parking lot can accommodate 183 cars and 51 car/trailer combos.
Many of the Cottage Grove audience, numbering about two dozen, represented members of the local pickleball community, and nearly all had positive impressions of the local parks.
However, local businessman Len Blackstone said he was sad to report that after touring covered bridges and parks in the area he felt the best words to describe Baker Bay in particular were “sadness” and “ashamed”.
Specifically, he said, the toilets were in an unacceptable state.
“The state of our parks is extremely critical,” he said, to the health and success of tourism in the region, as well as to community pride.
After a presentation on the state of Lane County parks in general, members of the public brainstormed ideas for improvement.
Participants then voted by putting stickers on the ideas they liked the most. From this process, a few concepts have emerged as the most popular.
The first choice of the participants was to connect the covered bridges in Cottage Grove to the local cycle paths, which would also include improving the maintenance of the bridges and providing signage.
The second most popular was improving Baker Bay by taking care of native vegetation and adding watercraft rentals to its features.
People also wanted to see more events, races and festivals held in local parks to increase tourist appeal.
However, the implementation of such changes will depend on funding.
During his presentation, Henry placed the funding situation in its historical context. He described the decades from the 1950s to the 1970s as a period of growth for Lane County parks.
“There was a lot of land acquisition and the county was full of money,” he explained. “Revenues from wood were coming in. At that time we were receiving part of the gas tax as well as the general fund. So a lot of revenue was coming in and parks were acquired.
By the mid-1970s, more than 35 full-time employees cared for the county’s 74 parks.
However, Henry pointed out, there was a marked decline in funding sources beginning in the 1980s, and the state of the county’s parks began to decline. Taking this into account, there was an economic recession causing parks to close, a lack of a stable source of revenue for maintenance and operation, and having more facilities than the county could maintain. adequately.
New funding strategies had to be implemented over the next two decades, including levying a car rental tax (which became 45% of the operating budget in 2000), increasing utilization and downsizing to just 17 full-time employees to cover approximately 59 parks.
Today, Lane County parks receive no property tax funding and instead rely primarily on user fees and a portion of taxes collected when hotel rooms are rented or purchased. of recreational vehicles in Lane County.
County parks are funded primarily (about a quarter of the funding) by camping fees and rental of the Camp Lane site. Nearly 20% comes from the transitional tourist tax.
Revenue streams such as car rental tax, day passes, mooring, and season passes are smaller tranches of funding.
The problem now, says Henry, is that “we can’t generate enough fees to meet the maintenance demand we have. So what ends up happening is we get a backlog of what’s called deferred maintenance.
A company was hired to assess how much deferred maintenance had accumulated. In an assessment of 17 of its current 69 parks (that’s all the department could afford to assess), about $21 million in deferred maintenance needs was found — in these parks alone.
“So you can imagine what it’s like for the whole park system,” Henry said.
To operate sustainably, it has been estimated that 11 additional full-time employees and an additional $2.8-3 million per year are needed.
A strategic plan that will span the next two years provided direction to implement the strategies of the Parks Funding Task Force, which primarily included citizens from across the county.
The financing working group identified five main strategies, including: finding long-term sustainable financing for the maintenance and operation of the park; process the multi-million dollar deferred maintenance backlog; improve the county’s ability to pursue and implement habitat conservation and restoration projects; providing environmental and cultural education programs for youth and adults; and focus on projects that generate net income.
Additionally, the Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan, adopted in 2018 as a 20-year plan, identified that the county should make significant investments in specific parks.
“We’re not going to tackle all 69 at once,” said county volunteer and marketing coordinator Jodi Low. “We don’t have the manpower; we don’t have the budget.
The plan prioritized targeted investments such as the distribution and equity of recreation options, respecting each park’s unique character and strengths, building on sites with existing access and infrastructure, and identifying opportunities to enhance leisure experiences.
The proposed levy would fund not only deferred maintenance, but also education, conservation, special projects and general park operations.
It is estimated that the countywide five-year local options tax would generate $7.5 million a year and cost taxpayers a $231,000 home $38 a year.
In July, Lane County Parks aims to submit the proposal to the county’s Board of Commissioners for approval and, if informed, voters will have the opportunity to vote on the matter in November.
More information and documents are available online at lanecounty.org. Go to the ‘Public Works’ page, click on the ‘Parks’ tab and view ‘Ongoing Projects’ to access Community Input Meeting information.