Water access, kayak launches top resident requests for recreation facilities

The county and city will use survey data to create a unified master plan for parks and recreation.

Blake Welltakes a swim at the Palm Coast Aquatics Center. City Council heard a presentation on June 20 on how residents in Flagler County use park and recreation facilities. Photo by Sierra Williams
Blake Welltakes a swim at the Palm Coast Aquatics Center. City Council heard a presentation on June 20 on how residents in Flagler County use park and recreation facilities. Photo by Sierra Williams
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Residents’ top requests for additional park and recreation facilities are more access to the water and more kayak launches. They also want more restrooms at parks.

Locals’ requests and complaints about recreation facilities were the topic of a recent survey of Flagler County and Palm Coast residents by the management consulting firm BerryDunn, which presented the results to the Palm Coast City Council at the council’s June 20 meeting. 

Palm Coast is working with Flagler County to design a comprehensive, unified Parks and Recreation Master Plan for the entire county.

Art Thatcher, a manager with BerryDunn, presented the survey data to the City Council. (BerryDunn was expected to present to the County Commission on June 19, but that presentation has been rescheduled to July.)

“This is the first project that I’ve done where the county and the city have collaborated together to do a joint master plan,” Thatcher said. “It’s very innovative on your part.”

Top requests

The outreach and survey program received more than 2,600 responses through mailed and online surveys, in-person meetings and a social media opinion board staff created.

On the actual surveys, Thatcher said, the firm received a good distribution of new and longer-term residents.

The top requests for more park and recreation facilities were for access to the water and kayak launches: Those two items each had 11% of the responses.

According to the combined results from both the online and mailed surveys, 57% of Flagler County residents said they frequently use the nature and jogging trails; another 54% frequently use the restrooms at the facilities.

Beaches get plenty of use: 25% of mailed survey and 24% of online survey respondents said they use the beach at least once a week; 22% of mailed survey and 31% of online survey respondents said they use the parks at least once a week.

Interpreting some of the data requires context, Thatcher said.

On the social media opinion board, for example, residents could say what their budget priorities were. Of 181 participants on the board, 43% rated upgrades to the Palm Coast Aquatics Center as their main priority. 

But Thatcher said most of the people who placed the aquatics center as their priority were likely the people who use the center the most.

A mapping analysis of park locations relative to the population showed that 86% of Palm Coast and Flagler County residents are within easy distance of local parks. 

The data also told the council and staff where residents want to see improvement. 

Residents gave all of the county’s parks and open spaces, walkways and trails, nature preserves and park amenities high “importance ratings,” but lower “needs met” ratings.

“When we see that the ‘needs met’ is greater than the ‘importance,’ we know that the community feels like those things are being well done,” Thatcher told the Observer. “It’s when it’s the other way [that it’s an issue.]”

Thatcher told the Observer that most residents don’t know which facilities belong to the county or the city.

“They just know they live here, and they go and they go participate,” he said. “By combining the two plans, it provides the opportunity for the two government entities to work together to … meet citizen demand.

The process

Thatcher said the team used a “mixed-method” approach of in-person meetings and social media outreach to contact as many residents as possible.

The team received more than 1,000 responses from the online survey and more than 1,500 responses from the mailed survey, he said.

“We use multiple [data] points so that we can really engage the community,” Thatcher said.

Council member Theresa Carli Pontieri said she was concerned about whether the responses were a fair reflection of the city’s population or just the loudest voices speaking out. 

She noted that even though 1,500 people returned the mail-in surveys, Palm Coast is a city of almost 95,000 people.

“I’m concerned we’re making big decisions on select groups who have responded,” she said.

Thatcher said that surveys were mailed to a random sample of local addresses and sent proportionately based on population in various areas. 

If an area of Flagler County only represented 35% of the population, about 35% of the surveys went to addresses in that area.

Prioritizing projects

One of the takeaways from the survey, Thatcher said, is that residents want the city and county to take care of the existing facilities, even as population growth demands expansion as well.

In a review of the trails and signage,  staff noted smaller issues that could be fixed to make information easier for residents to access: replacing aging signs and adding more informational and directional signs, for example.

I would say the priority is improving what you currently have. — Art Thatcher, a manager with BerryDunn

An analysis of park components also listed specific areas that received low ratings, so staff can prioritize problems to address. 

The trailhead at the Palm Coast Community Center and Park, for example, was listed as having no signage or access to a restroom or drinking fountain.

Several parks on the county side were marked as having no water access, or have problems like rough or cracked surfaces, according to the analysis.

Palm Coast Parks and Recreation Director James Hirst told the Observer some of the items that rated lower on the surveys were already on his department’s radar. 

The department can fix smaller items like broken QR codes on trail signs or replace dilapidated picnic tables relatively easily, he said.

Other, larger projects take longer, he said. In the meantime, the data gives staff a good inventory of maintenance needs.

“We will look towards maybe making an asset maintenance plan, things like that that we haven’t had in the past,” Hirst said.

We’re always excited to create something new for everyone. — James Hirst, Palm Coast Parks and Recreation Directo

Hirst said he was excited to see residents’ high interest in an aquatics center and additional water access.

“Anything new and expanding or even renovating and renewing always makes us excited,” he said. “We’re always excited to create something new for everyone.”

Forming a plan

Thatcher said the staff will use the new data to develop goals and, eventually, draft a final master plan.

“The master plan really is kind of a 10,000-foot view of operations,” Thatcher said.

The data from the surveys and analysis will also give staff a better idea of where to site new parks as the area grows, and help them calculate the costs of bringing some of the lower-scoring facilities or parks up to better standard, he told the Observer.

Hirst said that the next meeting will help show, statistically, where recreation access is lacking. 

Working with the county will help fill gaps in park access for residents, too, he said.

“Now that we have that relationship with the county we can kind of balance out some things,” Hirst said.

Thatcher said the next presentation on the master plan’s identified goals and objectives will be on Aug. 7 and 8, to the County Commission and City Council, respectively. 

The draft of the final plan will be presented in early September.


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