The two proposals for park expansion both miss the mark

Twice in the last six weeks, groups have made proposals that would significantly expand parks facilities in Crook County.

Unfortunately, both proposals seem to be driven by special interest groups rather than by community needs.

The first proposal, a feasibility study released in mid-November by the Crook County Foundation, would fund a massive outdoor sports complex, outdoor amphitheaters, an indoor swimming pool, and a lodging facility.

The second proposal, introduced by the Central Oregon Trail Alliance, proposes a bicycle park complete with high density trails and technical features.

There is no doubt that both proposals include items that could benefit livability in Crook County. Unfortunately, neither proposal looks at the big picture.

For example, skateboarders and others have attempted for years to make improvements to the local skate park. The current facility is small, and has limited features. It is used by both bikers as well as skaters. Reasonably, any new facility should have features that would accommodate both groups. However, the proposal, which suggests using City of Prineville property for the new bike park, does nothing to address the needs and concerns of skaters, not to mention the growing group of parkour participants in Crook County.

The sports complex proposed by the Crook County Foundation has even larger problems. For years, gym space in Crook County has been a problem. Competition for gym usage has led to hard feelings, and limited practice time.

Tennis players who wish to play in the winter are forced to travel to Bend. Even playing tennis in the summer is problematic as the only available courts are under lock and key at the high school. Volleyball, basketball, track and field, as well as other athletes, could readily use additional indoor athletic space or improved outdoor facilities.

Look at Bend and Redmond, and each middle school has its own track facility while at Crook County, the middle and high schools are forced to share one facility.

These groups were apparently completely ignored during the feasibility study, while the outdoor complex looks more like something that you would expect to find in greater metropolitan Portland or Eugene.

The concept appears to be that if you build a state-of-the-art facility, Crook County will be able to host tournaments, thus generating income and business in the county.

However, there is absolutely no evidence that if you build it they will come.

Ask yourself honestly this question — if you are running a youth baseball, softball, or soccer program from outside of the area and have the opportunity of playing in tournaments in Bend, Portland, Eugene, Medford, or Prineville, where would you choose to go?

No matter how hard we wish the answer is Prineville, it is doubtful that is where teams would choose to go to play.

On the other hand, the Crook County team volleyball camp already attracts 12-16 teams annually and more are turned away due to lack of space. Wrestling camps and tournaments also readily draw competitors from outside of the area.

The moral of the story is that what draws teams from outside can be either the desirability of the location they are traveling to, or the success of local programs.

For example, each year, the tennis program runs a successful summer tournament. However, due to a lack of local facilities, the tournament is held outside of Crook County. Build tennis courts and players will come. Build volleyball courts or places to hold wrestling tournaments and you can fill the stands.

Build additional baseball, softball, and soccer fields and if you are not careful, all you will have is new fields of dandelions like the current high school fields have become.

Do our sports fields need improvement? Absolutely. However, for the amount of money proposed, we could build a state-of-the-art indoor facility that would be used by locals year-round. Instead, we are proposing fields for use by teams from outside of Crook County, which may or may not ever come.

As for the proposed indoor swimming facility, yes, Crook County needs to do something about the dilapidated outdoor facility we currently have. However, caution is needed. Just ask Madras about how their MAC is working out. The facility is beautiful, but has been hemorrhaging money since it was built.

An even bigger problem with the proposal is the lodging facility. If the reason for the facility is to bring business from outside of the area, existing business should benefit from the proposal. Instead, taxpayer subsidies would indirectly help a new lodging facility potentially take customers away from existing businesses.

If someone wants to build a new lodging facility in Crook County, great, let them build, but to tie the facility to a taxpayer-funded athletic complex does a disservice to current Crook County businesses.

To put it simply, no matter how well-intentioned both groups are with their proposals, they need to go back to the drawing board.

Instead of building a wish list for a couple of special interest groups, let’s see what all community members really need and want. Then let’s set out to develop plans for what we need, not some pie-in-the-sky pipe dream. Because the reality is just because you build it doesn’t mean that they will come, and you are still going to have to pay for maintenance and upkeep far into the future regardless of the success or failure of the facility.

Contract Publishing

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