Awareness key obstacle to parks’ success, survey says

Seneca County Park District had questions, and respondents to a recent survey from the district’s strategic planning task force had loads of answers.

Among responses about activities people would like to see in the parks were hunting, fishing, picnicking and hiking, which already are offered.

“Some people are not aware that these are currently available,” the task force announced this week. “Along this same line of awareness of park activities, several people mentioned not being aware of park activities and/or where the parks are located.”

Respondents offered suggestions for improvements the committee said the board should consider.

“Although there were numerous suggestions for the SCPD to offer more motorized and sport-related activities that we are not currently offering, most of these activities are outside of our mission,” the task force stated.

After considering the results, the report stated greater awareness and growth in participation is a need.

“A comprehensive marketing and communications plan seems to be a top priority based on the data collected,” the summary reported. “This would result in more participation, more volunteers and generation of more resources, all of which would build a structure for the long-term sustainability of the parks.”

Also suggested were collaborations that would make use of local expertise in nature programming, especially for adults. The summary also mentioned a possible collaboration with agencies involved with the recently-completed Seneca County Health Assessment because two of its four goals were to address weight control and mental health for adults and youth.

Some highlights from the 260 surveys collected included:

Forty-two percent of responders were ages 40-60 and 31 percent were 60-70.

The top three parks visited are Garlo, Steyer and Tiffin University nature preserves.

Hiking/walking is the most popular activity, selected by 83 percent of those responding, followed by bird watching at 25 percent. Other activities mentioned were picnicking, bicycling, fishing, canoeing, volunteering, park programs, nature appreciation, special events and photography.

The top three responses for “what they like most” were: protect and preserve the natural areas; well-maintained; trails are well-marked and well-maintained.

The top three responses for what people like the least were: not easy to find/convenient; do not offer many activities; not accessible for physically challenged.

Regarding the number of parks, 59 percent said there are the right amount and 17 percent said there are too few.

The most prevalent reasons for not visiting the parks were: hunting is not allowed (even though it is allowed in specific areas); did not know they existed; and do not know the activities offered.

When asked whether they would use the parks more if they were more informed of park activities, 48 percent said they would, 29 percent said no and 23 percent said maybe.

When asked to list other activities they would use if they were available, 40 percent said fishing, 30 percent said picnicking and 30 percent said hiking (all those activities already are available).

Regarding whether they support or oppose development/maintenance of nature preserves and county parks, 38 percent said they strongly support, 14 percent said they mildly support, 24 percent said they are neutral, 10 percent said they mildly oppose and 14 percent said they strongly oppose.

19 percent said they would like to receive more information about the park district.

In an overview of the face-to-face interviews, committee member Cathy Nagle-Ervin said the average age of respondents was 61 and most were male.

“They were people of influence in the community,” she said. “Mayors, commissioners, school administrators, township trustees. We went out and actually interviewed these people to get some more input.”

She reviewed the information in graph form.

“Sadly, not a lot of people used Seneca County parks,” she said. “Only 14 percent used them once a week.”

While in the parks, they were hiking, walking dogs and bird watching.

Interviewees said the most important issues related to parks would be getting kids outside and involved with nature and health issues, with more people being overweight.

When asked about the vision for Seneca County overall, the group said community pride, a good lifestyle and getting involved with the community were important.

And they said the park district could increase its role in that vision by providing more educational outdoor activities for young people and using more marketing and social media avenues to increase public involvement.

“When asked about the park district’s image in the community, they weren’t really sure who we are or what we did,” Nagle-Ervin said.