Open Input for an Open Space Plan

By Mallory Reardon

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When municipalities pursue improvement projects within their communities, decisions about the type, size, and cost of these projects are often made in closed meetings among elected officials. Despite their efforts to make the best decisions they can for their constituents, sometimes projects are built that do not maximize opportunity and usage. Residents who are unhappy with outcomes are left with no option but to voice their complaints at Council meetings after projects have already been implemented. But public outreach as a central element of these municipal projects is part of a growing trend that gives residents a powerful voice to help mold upcoming projects to best fit their needs and garner positive community response.

Hunterdon County’s new Strategic Parks and Open Space Plan is one example of a project led by Maser Consulting that invites County residents to share their opinions and help integrate their voices into the final product. Our professionals are currently providing public outreach and visioning sessions to assist Hunterdon County with its strategic plan. The plan will help the County identify how many acres of parkland should be the ultimate goal of its Park System, as well as identifying the cost and timeline to achieve this goal. Our professionals are also reviewing current and future County Park development needs and locations and considering which upgrades/improvements these facilities may need.

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As part of the public outreach, several focus groups and public meetings were held with community leaders, residents, and park users. Participants were asked a variety of questions to assess their satisfaction with the current parks, ongoing open space needs of the community, and issues that should be addressed in the strategic plan. The County also invited all residents to participate in surveys to provide feedback on the current recreational facilities and programs, future needs, and priority levels of those needs. In addition, 4,000 households within the County were also randomly selected to receive a survey by mail. All survey feedback will be consolidated into a final report to the County, which will help County officials determine the best options to implement as part of the final Strategic Parks and Open Space Plan. The final plan will present a comprehensive view of all open space and will seek to create linkages/trails connecting these parcels within the County system. The County hopes to showcase a unified vision of open space and recreation to guide future decisions and identify how that vision corresponds and coordinates with the County’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.

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