By DOTTY NIST
“There are lots of kids coming along;” said Walton County District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows, “we have to crank things up and get them moving again.”
Meadows, a consistent supporter of public sports and recreation facilities, hosted a Sept. 16 community meeting to discuss plans for enhancements at Helen McCall Park and receive public input. The meeting took place at the Coastal Branch Library.
The county is applying for a $200,000 Florida Recreational Development Assistance grant to be used at the park. The funds are being requested to provide additional restrooms, parking, and concessions, and another picnic area, along with renovations to the soccer field and the older of the parks’ playgrounds.
Among the current offerings of the park, located on Moll Drive in Santa Rosa Beach, are three softball fields, a tee ball field, a multi-purpose field, a soccer field, batting cages, and playgrounds. The addition of a new soccer field will be celebrated at 10 p.m. on Sept. 23.
Meadows said she has received many requests for more fields for soccer and football south of the bay and that there has also been interest in lacrosse.
She said the county is currently working with a property owner to obtain a second entrance for Helen McCall Park from CR-393. Meadows also discussed the possibility of obtaining some additional acreage from the owner of some property to the west of the park. However, not much enlargement of the park is possible due to it being mostly bordered by wetlands and state park property.
Meadows pledged to continue her efforts to increase youth sports opportunities “We will keep trying,” she said. Meadows noted that a separate 25 to 30 acres is being sought for multiple sports fields to serve the growing youth population south of the bay. She discussed the challenge involved. It is difficult to find suitable property that is large enough and not next to residential development, Meadows explained.
A parcel over 30 acres in size and about three miles east of Emerald Coast Middle School has been offered to the county for purchase to be used as a sports complex, and other parcels are also being offered for such use. The second workshop on a possible sports complex in south Walton County is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Sept. 26 at the South Walton Annex. Meadows encouraged citizens to be involved with this process.
An attendee asked about the 5-percent recreational plat fee that developers are required to pay the county. Meadows responded that, prior to the recession, funds from this fee had fueled the development of Padgett Park and Driftwood Park and the addition of new facilities at Helen McCall Park. With the recession, this funding largely “dried up.” Meadows stated.
Angie Biddle, county grants coordinator, explained that funds from the plat fees have been tracked. “We can show you every dime,” she said.
Brad Alford, county facilities and parks manager, discussed the agreement that the county has entered with the Boys & Girls Club, which makes the fields at the club’s Santa Rosa Beach location available for use by local teams when not in use by the club.
Meadows explained that the club uses its fields only during the after school hours on weekdays – and not at all on weekends or during the summer.
In exchange for use of the Boys & Girls Club fields, the county has agreed to maintain the fields.
“We will continue to look for every opportunity,” Meadows pledged. She and Biddle thanked the residents for their attendance, which, they noted, would result in the county receiving points in favor of acceptance of its grant application.