Parks and recreation manager could expand parks in county

Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Officials hope a new position of parks and recreation manager for both Minooka Park and Higgins Ferry Park will expand the parks in Chilton County.

The Chilton County Commission unanimously voted April 14 to advertise an in-house job description for a county parks and recreation manager for Minooka Park and Higgins Ferry Park.

Commissioner Shannon Welch introduced the idea to commissioners during the Feb. 10 commission meeting.

Welch told commissioners in February he would like to see the position created to help grow the parks.

Some of the commissioners expressed concerns with the amount of funding that would be required for the new position and tabled the discussion until April 14 when they voted to advertise for the position.

“We have two parks that are unique in Alabama,” Welch said on Monday. “One is Minooka Park where you can bring your 4-wheelers, horses, bicycles and motorcycles. There really is something for everyone at the park. You also have Higgins Ferry Park with Lake Mitchell that attracts a lot of visitors. We are very fortunate to have these two parks in our county.”

Welch said he foresees the new parks and recreation manager boosting interest in both parks by bringing more attractions to the area.

“I see room for a lot of different things that could be brought to this area,” Welch said. “There are a lot of different things that you could look outside of the box to try to attract. I could see us hosting fishing tournaments, there could be other events held at Minooka Park and we could also have someone who could apply for different grants to help grow both of the parks.”

Although it is unclear how much money the new director would make, Welch said the position would serve as a director over the two park rangers who work at both Minooka Park and Higgins Ferry Park.

“The director would oversee the two park rangers who would be working at the two parks,” Welch said. “The director would also promote the parks to the best of their ability through the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and website.”

Currently, Gerald Arrington is the park manager at Minooka Park and Frank Atkinson is the park manager at Higgins Ferry Park.

Atkinson announced earlier this year he plans to retire May 1 and the commission voted to advertise for a park manager at Higgins Ferry Park.

Welch said his hope is the new parks and recreation director could increase funding to both parks by adding different attractions and boosting tourism.

“If we had different events where people wanted to come from across the state, we could take the profits from the parks and help fund the new position of parks and recreation director,” Welch said. “When you have different events that draw a large number of people to the area, they will see that our county has a lot to offer and want to come back.”

During a work session on Monday for a budget hearing with different county department heads, commission chairman Allen Caton spoke about how the county can benefit from having the two parks.

“When people come to visit Minooka Park, they buy gas and they go to the grocery stores and the county benefits from them,” Caton said.

Commissioner Joseph Parnell asked Arrington, who came to discuss his current budget for Minooka Park, if he thought there was growth potential at Minooka Park.

Arrington said he thought additional advertising could help boost the campground facility at the park but word of mouth helped boost interest for the different riding portions.

“We are pretty well-known as far as riding goes, but our campground could use some more exposure,” Arrington said.

In February, Gov. Robert Bentley awarded a $96,000 grant to Minooka Park.

The grant enables the park to expand and offer a broader range of accommodations for off-road motor vehicles and other trail-related activities.

Minooka Park plans to use the grant to purchase 40 acres adjacent to its existing 300-acre park near Jemison. The expansion will enable the county-owned park to provide more trails, including some designed for beginners and younger riders of off-road vehicles.

Arrington applied for the grant in 2013 and said the purchase makes a beginner track possible because it includes property that is flat, unlike the rolling and hilly terrain that characterizes most of the existing park.

Local governments and non-profit groups that receive recreational trails grants are required to supply support equal to at least 20 percent of the grant.

“I think it would be very important for the new parks and recreation director to be knowledgeable about different grants they could apply for that would help both parks,” Welch said. “I think we are going to see a lot of growth come from these two parks.”

Although it is undecided if the commission would hold interviews or assign a committee to interview the applicants for the full-time position, Welch said the new director could be appointed as early as the first week in June.