What Tuscaloosa can learn from Asheville, Part 2: Parks and recreation
This is Part 2 in a six-part series analyzing the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama’s benchmarking trip to Asheville, North Carolina, in September. Around 80 Tuscaloosa business and city leaders were in attendance at the event.
While Asheville, North Carolina, and Tuscaloosa are similar in a lot of ways, their parks systems are a heck of a lot different.
The Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority maintains and operates 44 public park facilities across Tuscaloosa County while the city of Asheville is in charge of 74.
Their budgets are similar, $14 million for Tuscaloosa and $16 million for Asheville, but TCPARA Executive Director Gary Minor said they’re doing more with less.
“They tried to do that in Asheville and they didn’t succeed,” Minor said. “That was their goal because it’s a good way to run parts of government. We enjoyed hearing that.”
Asheville Parks and Recreation Interim Director Peggy Rowe said one of their biggest goals is ensuring every child has access to a park.
“We want to make sure that our folks are fully aware of all the parks we have,” said Rowe. “People want to be outside, they need to feel like part of a community and these block parties, recreation centers and programs that we offer allow that for people of all ages.”
Asheville’s Parks and Recreation maintains 860 acres of land, 11 community centers, a comprehensive athletic program and a number of facilities that provide resources for activities including pickleball, rock climbing, fitness lessons and more.
But another thing drawing Asheville’s residents to their parks? Events.
“We have a lot of festivals that happen in the parks,” Rowe said. “The mountains draw people in and then the ability to find activities such as soccer, baseball, playgrounds, it just keeps (residents) engaged.”
In comparison, TCPARA operates nearly 2,000 acres of green space encompassing 35 parks, seven activity centers, boat landings, an 18-hole golf course and a tennis facility.
“We actually take care of more land, more athletic fields more swimming facilities, aquatic facilities, and we do it for more than $2 million less per year than they do it (in Asheville),” Minor said.
Asheville Parks and Recreation took a big hit in 2020, but Rowe said things are back on the upswing.
“They do a very good job here of getting grants and looking for alternative forms of funding and so that helps to support their budget to a great degree,” Rowe said.