Black Mountain recreation: 'We don't have enough facilities,' staff say

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
A lack of facilities as well as general upkeep of fields poses challenges to youth sports in Black Mountain.

A lack of funding for the Black Mountain Parks and Recreation department has led to unkept facilities, staffing issues and a lack of support for youth sports.

Nathan West and Kiersten Hall helped found the Black Mountain Project, a gathering of roughly 25 community members who meet each month to tackle various endeavors around town. Most recently, West petitioned the town for funding for youth programs.

"The fact that I have to say anything to get people on board to support our children is pretty disheartening," West said, addressing the Town Council on behalf of the group on March 14. 

West said the Black Mountain Project hopes to function as a constant in town to keep track of goals and projects. He said the group focuses on nonpartisan topics, things most people can agree on. 

Josh Henderson, the director of Parks and Recreation, said he has requested funding for upgrades to the Grey Eagle Arena sports complex, among other things. Due to a lack of funding, he said not having functional facilities is only a piece of the problem. 

"We don't have enough facilities and fields to accommodate all of the youth sports," Henderson said. 

Between all the various sports offered by Parks and Recreation, West estimated 500 kids to be playing during a season. He said this leads to competition for field space due to limited availability.

West said the group brought more than 100 signatures from community members supporting youth sports to the Town Council. While the signatures show community support for youth programs and facility improvement, West said the town hasn't been able to step up to the plate. 

"For the longest time it just seemed like our kids would get neglected by our community," West said. 

Council member Doug Hay attended a meeting of the Black Mountain Project, offering support for its youth sports cause. He said the town has an ambitious master plan for improving Parks and Recreation but does not include a strategy for how to fund it.

Hay said the town has to find a balance between specific community member needs and supporting the town as a whole. As a father of two, Hay said he's interested in improving facilities for youth sports as quickly as the budget will allow. 

Black Mountain council member Doug Hay prepares for a Town Council meeting on March 14.

Hay said maintenance of facilities has certainly been an era lacking attention. Though the town begins working on projects, Hay said resources haven't always been dedicated to upkeep, seeing through to completion.

"That's a priority," Hay said. "Taking care of what we have so that we can utilize it. Not just for youth sports, but for all recreation."

According to Hay, while he hasn't yet seen the upcoming budget as it's still being drafted, the council identified the Grey Eagle's upgrades as a priority in a recent budget workshop. 

"For additional funding, expanding the soccer program is something that I'm really interested in," Hay said. "I think that everyone would love to see youth sports expanded."

Reinforcing the programs already in place, Hay said, is a good place to start. 

Henderson came before the Town Council on March 14 to ask for better funding for the town's summer camp. Henderson said staffing has been an issue for the department for the past two years.

"Last year we didn't have a staff at all for summer camp," Henderson said. 

With no camp staff, the department office staff ran the camp. Already a busy time of year for the department, Henderson said the strain of trying to do too many jobs at the same time was not sustainable for another year. 

The council approved a pay increase for summer camp staff in an effort to hire the usual seasonal employees. Henderson said since the pay rates were increased, he's already received job applications.

"The needs of the community are growing," Henderson said. 

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.