Run, bike or stroll – more play coming to John Hunt Park

single-meta-cal July 1, 2017

With the promise of serving more residents and an increasingly active and diverse community, the City of Huntsville is embarking on a plan to transform the Becky Peirce Municipal Golf Course into a multi-use park.

The renovated park will anchor the south end of the John Hunt Park complex, replacing the golf course that has been closed since late 2016.

New park amenities will include a cross-country running track, walking trails, a mountain bike facility, dog park and disc golf course. It will continue to serve local golfers with an expanded, lighted driving range.

The proposed design takes advantage of the rolling contour of the 140-acre property and existing six miles of paved paths to provide a variety  of experiences for bikers, runners and walkers.

It will neighbor the 30-court Huntsville Tennis Center (under expansion), soccer and youth league baseball fields and new sand volleyball courts recently approved for construction.

When complete, the plan creates a mecca of activities that fulfills a community vision for an improved John Hunt Park – a true ‘central park’ for all residents to enjoy.

“We were overwhelmed by a community-wide response to the possibility of transforming the golf course into new recreation opportunities,” said Steve Ivey, Director of Parks & Recreation. “Young professionals are drawn to biking, hiking and running and they are looking for cities that provide a wide variety of these outdoor options.”

Off to the Races

Not only will the renovated park serve Huntsville residents, it can become a tourist attraction, according to City Administrator John Hamilton. The facility can be used to host competitions that will draw visitors to Huntsville, boosting the local economy through tax revenue and money spent by visitors at hotels, restaurants and retail.

To wit: A six-hour mountain bike event in western North Carolina last year drew nearly 350 riders, with half of those out-of-town visitors who spent at least one night in a hotel. That single event provided an economic impact to the community of more than $60,000 for a relatively modest one-day event.

The running trails can also provide a new venue for 1K – 5K races, routinely hosted in the downtown area. As more businesses continue to locate in the City’s central core, the logistics for holding road races there have become even more challenging and expensive. The new park may serve as an ideal host.

Approving the Multi-Use Park Plan

Mayor Tommy Battle praised the work of the City Council, who approved the multi-use park plan at their June 22 meeting, and the process they took in arriving at that decision. Council devoted a work session to consider the issue – retain the golf course or turn it into a multi-use park.  Council provided opportunities for the public to speak, which brought passionate comments from residents on both sides of the issue.

“It truly was an exercise in democracy,” Battle said. “It was not an easy decision. The Council looked at it very thoughtfully and they finally came down with a good decision, but a tough one to make.”

The mixed-use plan is expected to cost $1.25 million to implement, and funding is available. That’s half the estimated cost to sufficiently renovate the golf course and bring it up to standards recommended by consulting group Raven Golf.

Huntsville’s quandary with its municipal golf course is hardly unique. There was a net closure of 171 golf courses in the U.S. in 2016, according to the National Golf Federation. There are fewer golfers now than 20 years ago and there are more courses closing each year than are opening.

More than two out of three courses that closed last year charged less than $39 in greens fees, a category that would include the “Muni.” Raven Golf revealed there were 89 patrons who held annual passes permitting unlimited play. They played a total of 9,854 rounds, at an average cost of $5.45. That meant less money to reinvest in proper maintenance.

Battle said the City began the process of trying to figure out how to keep the golf course financially solvent, but it’s hard to argue with numbers. After listening to the golf community and the many groups involved in mountain bike riding and running, the Mayor says the City realized this park “could have a whole lot more appeal to a whole lot more people” if it moved in a new direction.