The Town of Hilton Head Island has 25 beach parks, community parks, public docks and boat ramps, and recreational parks throughout the island, in addition to 64 miles of public pathways and nature trails.
As a world-class travel destination and permanent home to 42,000 residents, Hilton Head’s parks and recreational facilities appear to have everything for everyone. Or do they?
The town isn’t sure, so that’s why it prioritized the development of a comprehensive parks and recreation master plan in 2019.
“We have some deficiencies in either the types of facilities and-or locations,” said Butch Kisiah, chair of the town’s parks and recreation commission, as well as chair of the community-based task team that’s addressing the issues. “We wanted this plan to tell us what kind of shape we’re in and what can we do to make it right. Are the parks we have, the parks we need? Are there things we should be doing but aren’t doing? Are there facilities and programs that we’re doing well or need to improve?”
The town signed a $100,000 contract in the spring with consultant Lose Design of Nashville to provide a roadmap of projects and cost estimates for the next 10 years, said town senior planner Taylor Ladd, who is project manager for the master plan. The consultant has been collecting data research and community input since June and will present an analysis with recommendations in early 2020.
“We’re doing a recreation needs assessment to see where we’re deficient,” Ladd said. “A lot of folks have said, ‘Let’s start out by making our existing parks better’.”
“I think from the task force team and commission’s standpoint, there are parks that are in good shape and parks that are needing help,” said Kisiah, who retired as parks and recreation director in Chapel Hill before moving to Hilton Head six years ago.
It’s been a long time since the town has taken a critical look at its park and rec programs and facilities. The last official “recreation and open space plan,” as it was called then, was initiated in 1995 and in effect for 20 years.
Ladd mentioned the need to enhance amenities at specialized sports parks like Barker Field, water recreation sites, and volleyball and tennis facilities. Many of today’s facilities didn’t exist 24 years ago.
“We do have a good distribution of parks on the island, but there’s a lot of updating that needs to happen,” Ladd said. “There’s also is an opportunity for a new community park on the north end of the island to try to balance the community park in the central part of the island at Shelter Cove and the south end at Coligny.”
She’s also planning to look closely at creating a pickleball complex to complement the sport’s surging popularity on the island. “We have had a lot of community support and input and, in the end, we want to have a product that is going to guide the town in the development of park and recreational facilities for the entire island,” Kisiah said. “If the community doesn’t support it, you’re out of luck.”
A draft of recommendations compiled by the consultant will be reviewed by town staff and the task team, which then will present its version to the commission in January. Town council is expected to adopt the plan by June 2020.
Coinciding with the drafting of the parks and rec master plan is updating and rewriting the town’s Our Plan, a comprehensive plan that envisions Hilton Head’s future over the next 10 years. Ladd is also project lead of this effort, which has been another council priority for 2019.
“It really is a good time to be doing this,” she said. “It’s more robust this time around because we have an outside consultant working with us, and it’s being integrated into the comprehensive plan process.”
Added Kisiah, “It’s important that we do the (parks) master plan but, to me, it’s just as important that the recommendations that come out of the plan are part of the town’s comprehensive plan.”
In Kisiah’s words, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.