Tight economy pinches county parks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
The economic pinch hitting family budgets is now being felt in the county park system.
Attendance at Dan Nicholas Park has dropped off for the past three weekends.
“We’re bracing ourselves for the upcoming weekend,” Parks Director Don Bringle said last week. He expects attendance to take a big hit. This past weekend was the annual sales tax holiday, when people head for the malls and stores to save a little money on purchases.
Bringle said the park has been “extremely crowded” on Saturdays, requiring park officials to bring in two off-duty deputies to help with security.
If the drop-off in attendance on Sunday continues, it could affect the park’s bottom line, which has been growing steadily.
At a meeting earlier this week, Rowan County Parks and Recreation Commission member Hayes Smith noted the cutback in field trips by many area school systems and questioned whether that will affect the parks.
Bringle said his staff won’t know the effect until August, when teachers return to school and start planning field trips.
“It’s not impacted us yet,” he said, adding that busloads of students in summer programs are continuing to visit the parks.
Bringle provided an update on the overall revenue for the park system. Most of the revenue comes from the attractions at Dan Nicholas Park.
The Parks and Recreation Department netted $1.4 million during the fiscal year ending June 30. That’s an increase of $231,000 from the previous year.
Bringle cited an increase in camping charges, gem mine fees and sales.
During the past 10 years, revenue has tripled, going from $400,000 to $1.4 million.
In other matters:
– The board agreed to hear information on a proposal to put a Web cam at Dunn’s Mountain Park to provide live photos.
– Sue Kahn announced she would not be available to continue serving as the park board’s chairwoman. A nominating committee headed by Pat Masters will recommend a slate of new officers at the August meeting.
– Bringle updated the board on work at the Rowan County Fairgrounds. A contractor has begun work on upgrading the electrical system.
– Park staff has completed work on digging out and refilling the gem mine.
– The board agreed to hold its next meeting Aug. 26 at the Cohen Administration Building in Salisbury.