A celebration of national recognition gave people an opportunity to think about the future of recreation in Pitt County.
More than 100 people ignored a drizzling rain on Saturday morning to attend the celebration of the American Planning Association designating the County Home Complex one of five Great Public Spaces as part of its 2017 Great Places in America program.
It’s the first time a North Carolina public space has received the recognition in the Association’s 10 year history, said Cynthia Bowen, association president.
“We are here to celebrate a space that has been instrumental in improving the health of area residents through planning,” Bowen said.
“You have through thoughtful and deliberate planning created a facility that promotes sustainability, healthy eating and physical activity among people of all ages.”
The planning is ongoing with local leaders touting efforts to secure funding to buy a facility that will serve as a community gymnasium and storm shelter.
The complex is located on 200 acres that the Pitt County government purchased in 1828. At the time, the farmland was five miles from Greenville, said Commissioner Jimmy Garris, who represented the Board of Commissioners at the event.
Initially the county built a facility to house the indigent elderly. That facility closed in the early 1980s. In 1986, the county located the first Wintergreen school on the land. Throughout the next 30 years, the county located a recycling collection center, the Leroy James Farmers’ Market, an animal shelter, the Council on Aging, the Community Schools and Recreation building, Alice F. Keene District Park, Spay Today, Making Pitt Fit Community Garden and Eastern Carolina Village and Farm Museum at the complex while expanding Wintergreen to house both primary and intermediate classes.
“I am very pleased and very proud of what we’ve accomplished here,” Garris said.
These locations and the programs they house have made it possible to deliver meals to the elderly, build walking trails, teach children where strawberries come from, preserve history, allow farmers and consumers to come together, provide shelter for abandoned pets and teach people the importance of recycling, said Alice Keene, Pitt County special projects coordinator and longtime advocate of community recreation.
Saturday’s event also allowed the location to be formally branded as the County Home Complex, said James Rhodes, Pitt County planning director.
“Locally within our group here we’ve called (the area) that for years but now we are trying to educate folks what the complex is,” Rhodes said. “We felt like County Home Complex is broader and connotes what is going on out here and all the various components.”
Along with the Great Public Spaces ceremony, an opening ceremony was held for a new one-mile plus natural walking trail. It breaks off from the southern end of the existing paved walking trail, looping three-quarters of a mile around the existing trail with an additional half-mile of smaller loops, Rhodes said.
Also in connection with the celebration the Council on Aging hosted an Oktoberfest event, Spay Today offered $10 microchipping of pets and Pitt County Animal Services offered discounted adoptions.
The complex has even more potential said both county officials and users of the facility.
“The connectivity component will really make it take off. We have great things out there but we need better access whether it’s by foot, bike or public transportation,” Rhodes said. “We need better ways of getting people to that site and continuing to grow that site.”
The complex is within Greenville’s city limits, Keene said.
“We’ve had several conversations with the city and we’re hopeful that is going to happen in the near future,” she said.
The proposed gymnasium is the project that excites most people.
When Pitt County launched its Community Schools and Recreation program, the aim was to allow community groups to use school gyms and recreation facilities for play. However, after school athletics and other programs have expanded, limiting the hours the facilities are open to the public.
“All the (Senior Games) athletics teams, men’s and women’s, have to use the school gyms and it limits our time,” said Marilyn Holshouser.
While most people at the complex said they want the gym, they also had other ideas for further improving the complex, which had more than 50 undeveloped acres left.
“I would like a dream dog park, with the slides and the agility equipment. There is one in (Greenville) but I live in Winterville and this is more convenient for me,” said Jennifer Baysden, who was walking her newly adopted dog, Jake, on Saturday.
“This is just a wonderful place and I enjoy it,” she said. “It has multi-generational appeal.”
Baysden and Nancy Mize, a Senior Games participant, also said more playground equipment would be nice.
“Day cares come out and bring busloads of children out here,” Mize said.
Scott Tanner and his wife, Jaime, visit once or twice a week to walk along the trails.
“We enjoy that the paths are paved. It’s what we prefer,” he said. “We mostly walked in our neighborhood (before) but out here we don’t have to worry about the traffic.”
Tanner said he hopes the gymnasium is built and that it will have exercise equipment available for community use.
Jack Taft, a board member of the Eastern Carolina Village & Farm Museum, said once the facility secures its certificate of occupancy he’d liked to see more interaction and joint events between it the farmers’ market and Wintergreen schools.
“This is a wonderful complex that we have and honestly, it’s perfect. There’s a lot of activities for people,” Taft said. “This is a wonderful location, so close to everything. The Alice Keene Park and the entire park offer so many amenities,” he said.
Phil Newill, a member of Pitt County Senior Games softball team and Council on Aging Board member, said he doesn’t want to see too many changes once the gym is built because he doesn’t want to see every acre developed.
“I think there is just enough development here and just enough natural facilities left that I think it is a good balance between organized activities and just enjoying the outdoors,” Newill said.
“I think the idea that it is so open really contributes to the value of it and the attractiveness to it,” he said.
Contact Ginger Livingston at email@example.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.