JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — The Marble Falls Parks and Recreation Department is entering its busiest summer in several years, and it’s not only because of the increased use of recreational activities.
Commissioners started a series of information gathering sessions June 6-7 conducted by Halff Associates representatives to start the process of creating a Park, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan update, the city’s first in four years.
But it’s not just the parks and recreation commissioners in the mix. Officials brought together a group of people representing various organizations and stakeholders, including mayors of nearby cities.
The biggest topics included youth/recreational sports, accessibility for older residents and park improvements.
Leaders of the city’s community sports leagues and representatives of some of the historical chapters expressed their desire to improve the parks to make them friendlier for retirees and more efficient for children.
One problem retirees face is a lack of walking trails that fit what they can do physically. Most want to walk on straightaways without slopes.
Youth sports representatives shared concerns about outdated or inadequate park facilities.
Todd Gibson, president of the Granite Country Youth Soccer Association, and Sam Stacks of the Marble Falls Youth Baseball and Softball Association said they face similar obstacles: the need for more fields, improving the existing facilities and trying to find ways to keep registration costs down for families.
Each said they want to see more fencing, new concession stands and bleachers.
“We do very little for youth sports,” Gibson said. “We’re all-volunteer, nonprofit. The city helps with mowing and irrigation during the summer with fields.”
He noted that his organization has outgrown “The Greens” soccer fields, located at Avenue K, because there are more players than what the fields can accommodate. Currently, there are four fields with plans to add more.
One option is a sports complex.
About six years ago, the city of Marble Falls hired a firm to conduct a study to determine if a sports complex was a feasible project to boost the local economy as well as benefit local youth. When adding in the number of fields for soccer, softball and baseball, the projected price is at least $10 million, according to the study. If a competitive swimming pool is added to the mix, the projected price jumps another $10 million.
According to Robert Moss, Marble Falls parks and recreation director, the feasibility study indicates “it’s needed in the area. It’s economically feasible and supports the economy tremendously. It would pay back quickly. The challenge is financing.”
Gibson believes a sports complex that has fields for soccer, baseball and softball is needed. Though the GCYSA charges some of the most cost-effective registration fees at $90 per child in the Austin region, parents wonder what they’re paying for when they see outdated facilities.
Stacks said families pay $75 per child, which is one of the cheapest in the area, to participate in the MFYBSA.
“But for some people, they take a huge hit,” he said. “I’d rather see more time and money put into what we currently have.”
Moss said a sports complex would address many concerns, but the question is financing it. He pointed out that the majority of the kids who participate in youth sports in Marble Falls don’t live in the city limits. So Marble Falls voters might be reluctant to foot the bill for something they don’t think benefits them.
Fran McSpadden of the Falls on the Colorado Museum asked if it would be possible to create a coalition with other city councils and spread out the sports complex amongst other cities. Moss said a coalition is possible; however, putting pieces of a sports complex in other cities is a challenge because not every city has the proper infrastructure.
But it’s not just about sports.
The Rev. Jim Coursey and the Rev. George Perry said churches and individuals would probably be willing to help, even digging into their own pockets, but with some caveats.
The improvements must benefit all families and residents, Coursey said, and there has to be accountability.
The projects should also have a projected cost, a start-and-end date and other information. Perry added that he didn’t want to donate money or help facilitate donations if the money just sat there.
“If I write a check, I want to see that project in a month,” he said. “We’re willing to fund a project, and you’re not alone.”
Moss said there are several ready-to-go projects and that he didn’t realize this type of funding was available.
The meetings were a start for city leaders, community members and organization representatives to begin envisioning Marble Falls parks’ future and brainstorm funding and financing options. A representative from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department pointed out that the department offers grants for cities.