Written by Derek Koel
Just how long has the Town of Port McNeill not had Parks and Recreation staff, programs or an advisory committee?
That’s a good question, one that’s worth diving in and exploring.
While there is a Parks and Recreation budget and line item, to the tune of $500,000 a year, but with the exception of the outdoor swimming pool, the reality is that most of that money is going to administration, maintenance, and operational expenses for various town-owned facilities like the Old School, whether they are used for recreational purposes or not.
The town has not had a recreation strategy or coordinator run programs in decades.
Enter Port McNeill’s new Parks and Recreation Committee, born out of the ashes of the previous council with various locals with diverse interests and backgrounds putting their names forward to join the volunteer committee. The committee advises and reports, usually at the request of council, as council always has the final say. As per the bylaw, their referrals are not to involve operational matters.
According to the town’s website and bylaw, the committee is to:
1. Recommend policies on parks and recreation, area specific community interests, services, facilities, and operations.
2. Develop and implement a parks and recreation plan and strategy.
3. Provide advice to Council and liaison with other Town committees and groups.
4. Where appropriate, apply for grants, matching funds and other external sources of revenue to fund parks and recreation.
As part of the 2022 budget, $100,000 has been set aside for future capital Parks and Recreation project(s).
Coun. Leighann Ruel was recently appointed the Parks and Recreation council portfolio and will attend as a non-voting member of the committee to provide support and resources. Ruel was the natural fit for this roll as she was a committee member prior to being elected to council last October.
With only seven of the nine positions filled, one of the first orders of business is to recruit a youth liaison for the team. Applications forms are on the town website.
The committee has been busy, meeting and planning with town committees, staff and other community groups – taking stock of park assets, physical spaces, facilities, and lands. They plan to reach out and meet with Port Hardy’s Recreation Coordinator. Short, medium, and long-term goals were identified for discussion and investigation.
Top of the short-term list seems to be researching the logistics of transforming the playground at Centennial ball park into a functional, fully fenced, dog park. The group has met with Port McNeill’s Animal Control officer, who confirmed the need for a proper facility.
Next up was to find out what North Island Secondary School needs to re-open the climbing wall (located in their gymnasium) to the community.
Other short-term priorities include looking into hiring a recreation coordinator, evaluate gaps in the Official Community Plan regarding parks and rec., search for grant opportunities, start conversations with the forest industry regarding an interpretive trail, improve beach access and accessibility in general. Area’s of interest include community garden spaces, looking at the commemorative bench program, an indoor play center, supporting and possibly combining events like local art, sport and community festivals.
Skaters and bikers will have to wait awhile but the top medium-term priority (2-5 years) appears to be a skate park/bike pump track followed by a kayak launch and “coordination of services.”
Long-term priorities are ambitious, as they include developing a waterfront park on the town-owned land at the end of Beach Drive, known locally as Hoy Bay. At the harbour waterfront, a playground, stage and outdoor fitness area has been envisioned, along with a fisherman’s wharf/pier. Downtown could see a new town square and community centre developed, complete with play center, meeting spaces and gym. Other idea’s include forest and tide interpretive centers.
The next Parks and Recreation committee meeting is at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27, at the town office. The public is welcome to attend. Agenda’s and meeting minutes can be found via the town’s website: PortMcNeill.ca.
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