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Shape the outdoors: Buncombe County seeks public ideas on passive recreation development

Jordan Mitchell

Buncombe County leaders want to hear the public’s thoughts and ideas about the development of passive recreation lands. The work is one of several projects included in the  Open Space Bond passed by voters in November 2022.

Residents can share their thoughts at the community meeting on Wednesday, May 17, at 6 p.m. at the South Buncombe/Skyland Library. Residents are also invited to take an online survey about the work.

To find out more, BPR’s Helen Chickering checked in with Jill Carter, Buncombe County’s Open Space Bond Project Manager.

Note: The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

HC: Can you help us understand passive recreation projects? When I hear the term, I imagine sitting in a lawn chair on a baseball field, but I understand it goes beyond that.

JC: Passive recreation refers to activities that have minimal or no impact on the natural landscape. These activities are typically informal outdoor pursuits such as hiking, nature viewing, or non-motorized biking. Unlike sports fields, they do not require specific structures or extensive maintenance like lawn mowing.

Most importantly, passive recreation activities are compatible with conservation efforts. In this case, it is likely going to be parks and open spaces where there might be hiking trails or picnic areas. These activities preserve the natural landscape, allowing us to protect the environment while providing opportunities for low-impact recreation.

HC: In a region full of trails and open spaces, I was surprised to learn that Buncombe County currently only has one designated passive recreation area.

JC: That's correct. Collier Cove, located in the Arden area, is the county's only owned and managed passive recreation project. Buncombe County is relatively new to this type of project, which is why we want to understand the community's vision for passive recreation. We aim to establish a shared definition and understanding of what an ideal passive recreation park looks like in Buncombe County.

HC: Is the county planning to acquire land to support new passive recreation projects, or will it focus on existing projects?

JC: We are open to both options. The bond funds can be used to purchase land for future parks or support projects that are not owned by the county but align with our definition of passive recreation lands. For instance, organizations may apply for bond funds to create hiking trails or manage invasive species. We want to keep our approach flexible since this is a new project type for the county.

Through public engagement, we hope to gain insights from the community and involve them in designing these projects.

HC: Could you explain what will happen during the upcoming community meeting, who should attend, and how people can prepare?

JC: The meeting aims to establish the goals for passive recreation land in Buncombe County. Since the public voted for this bond, we want to know which projects the community desires within the boundaries and definition of passive recreation. What makes a good project in their eyes? What values do they want to incorporate while allocating these bond funds?

These conversations will shape the process of reviewing proposed projects and selecting those that align with the county's goals. The meeting is open to everyone in Buncombe County who is interested in learning more about passive recreation or wants their thoughts and opinions on potential projects to be heard.

HC: What comes next after the community meeting?

JC: We have anonline surveyavailable, and we encourage everyone to fill it out, regardless of their ability to attend the meeting. The survey asks about their priorities for these bond funds. Based on the conversations and survey results, our staff will establish a set of criteria to evaluate project proposals.

We will consider factors such as how well a project aligns with the county's passive recreation goals and how it compares to other projects. The most promising projects will be recommended for funding. We will refine the criteria based on feedback and present it to the commissioners for adoption later this summer.

HC: Is there anything else you would like people to know?

JC: I want to highlight that the open space bond, particularly the passive recreation component, supports the county's goal of conserving 20% of our land by 2030. What sets passive recreation apart is that, despite having conservation easements, these lands will remain accessible to the public. This is unique because much of the conserved land is privately owned or inaccessible to the public.

Our aim is not only to achieve the 20% conservation goal but also to ensure that all residents of Buncombe County can enjoy and appreciate this beautiful landscape we call home.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.