Survey says more trails needed

Prince William County residents want more hiking and biking trails and more open space instead of new facilities, according to a Park Authority survey.

They also want existing parks to be renovated rather than building new ones, and a majority of respondents favor paying for them with user fees rather than taxpayer dollars.

Low on their list of priorities were more ball fields: one is now under construction in Brentsville and another planned for Gainesville.

The April survey was conducted by Ellen Rodgers, director of George Mason University’s Center for Recreation and Tourism, and Brett Wright, Clemson University’s chairman of the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management Department. Wright was Rodgers’ predecessor at George Mason.

The two researchers presented their findings to the Park Authority board on Wednesday.

The $38,000 study questioned by mail 3,000 residents about their recreational needs. Forty-one percent of those mailed the survey responded. The study is expected to be completed by mid-October and presented to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors in November.

More than 81 percent of those surveyed said they had no interest in softball or baseball fields. Ten percent said they used softball fields, while 24 percent said they used ball fields.

Of much more popularity were walking, jogging and biking paths; indoor aquatic fitness and recreation centers; historic and cultural sites; open space; and outdoor community pools.

They were the top five recreational facilities in the county in terms of use, at 39.2 percent; 36.8 percent, 34.5 percent, 32.6 percent and 32.4 percent, respectively.

Overall, 43.7 percent said they were satisfied with Prince William’s programs compared to other counties. Almost 25 percent said facilities were inadequate.

Park Authority spokeswoman Beth Robertson said the study shows the county is on track in developing the kinds of recreation residents want.

The finding that surprised board members most was the desire for more concerts.

It was the top unmet need at 22.2 percent among seven programs that included open gyms, historical/cultural programs and teen activities.

In Fairfax County, community concerts in one district staged by its Park Authority became so popular that Fairfax supervisors demanded they be expanded to all districts, said Rick Washco, Prince William’s Park Authority marketing manager.

“Since Sept. 11 people want to spend more time in their own back yards with their families,” Washco said.

More than 62 percent of respondents wanted to renovate or add features to existing facilities, rather than the 37.7 percent who wanted to acquire more land for future parks. About that same ratio wanted open space preserved for environmental or historical purposes.

The number of respondents that didn’t want to pay to increase or improve facilities or programs was almost double the people who did, at 67 percent.

Fifty-three percent want to acquire and develop more parks and facilities funded through user fees, while 46.5 percent want to limit acquisition and development to those parks or facilities that are strictly tax supported.

Park Authority board Chairman Jim Johnson of the Coles District said the findings would be useful in planning programs and facilities in the future. He said the final report would be analyzed in different ways to pull more information from it.

Residents of Occoquan were the most satisfied, with 55.2 percent saying the facilities were adequate. Gainesville residents were the least satisfied at 32.6 percent.

Chinn Aquatic and Fitness Center was the most used county facility, followed by Splashdown Waterpark, Dale City Recreation Center, Ben Lomond Park and Andrew Leitch Waterworks Park.

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