Llano Parks Project — A String of Emerald Gems

WRITTEN FOR THE LLANO NEWS IN LLANO TEXAS

Llano Parks Project — Creating a String of Emeralds from Llano’s Gems in the Rough

Jesse Blackmon can remember, as a child at Badu Park, soaring on a rope swing over the Llano River.  To the then 13-year old Jesse, that rope swing was the main attraction of the entire Llano parks system at that time.  Now a father of three, he, along with the other current core members of the Llano Parks Project (LPP), who are all also parents, would like to see Llano’s parks and recreation facilities reach their fullest potential.  The LPP has a vision, it has a plan, it has a start — and it has a gathering momentum while yet seeking sponsors and those willing to assist in the financing of its community projects and long-term vision.  “Everyone gets behind a parks initiative,” says Jesse.  “This gives the community freedom to dream big and dream high when it comes to parks and recreation.”

The Llano Parks & Recreation System consists of three city parks (and one more under development), three recreation facilities on school sites, two county-owned “common areas” adjacent the east side of the bridge (one each on the north and south shores of the river), and one community “pocket” park.  There is also a Golf & RV Park and an Events Center.  There are also hidden, secret, hang-out spots on the river inside the city, one on a lengthy granite slab, another on a sandy beach, etc.  (As an important aside, a community event, a volunteer river clean-up, has been coordinated by Main Street Manager, Tex Toler, and scheduled for all-day this Saturday, August 2nd on the north commons.)

When visiting these parks, especially Llano’s two flagship parks, Robinson and Badu, one is immediately struck by a paradox.  These parks are at once ruggedly beautiful and woefully underdeveloped.  They are gems in the rough, just waiting for an organization like the LPP to come along and coordinate a community effort to release their inner emerald.  Robinson and Badu both have beautiful shade trees, striking granite outcroppings, green areas and rudimentary lake access.  Badu Park, home of the July 4th Rock’n River Fest, even has a gorgeous waterfall!  The LPP envisions hiking trails, a splash pad, kayak and paddle-boat rentals, a shaping of the lake shores, cabins, and a large playscape, among other things, for either or both these parks.

In fact, the formerly deteriorating playscape at Robinson Park, and its need for repair and upgrade, served as one of two initial galvanizing issues in the beginning formation of the LPP one year ago.  The other galvanizing issue was last year’s lack of family-friendly activities at Llano’s annual Crawfish Open at Robinson Park — an event that started-out, ten years ago, as very family friendly but had become increasingly less so over the years.  The folks behind the Crawfish Open were also seeking to redress the situation.  Introducing a bit more family friendliness to the most recent Crawfish Open, along with getting that playscape repaired last year, were two of the LPP’s near-immediate successes after its original formation.

Though its 501c status is currently pending, the organization’s by-laws and structures were put in place a year ago.  That’s when Jesse Blackmon followed Vivian Koerner’s original stirrings to organize citizen action on parks-related issues.  An invitation was put out to the community for attendance at an open event held at the First Baptist Church.  The original response by a dozen people to that call, later solidified down to five persons who would become the LPP’s executive committee, four of whom also serve on its Board of Directors.

The five members of its executive committee are Jesse Blackmon, who is the current president of the LPP, Vivian Koerner, who is the current vice president, Julie Leverett, who is the current treasurer, Rachel Wimberley, who is the current secretary, and Brandon Dempsey.  Tiffany James, a local realtor, is also helping-out the LPP by looking for sponsors for its projects and seeking-out those willing to assist in the financing of its long term plan.  While Jesse was the one contacted for this interview, he is very clear that everyone involved in the LPP is talented and hard-working and that the LPP is nothing without them.  They, with the support of the community, produced the momentum that is driving the LPP forward.

As an example of that momentum behind this initiative, the city quickly formed a Parks & Recreation Advisory Board in response to, and in recognition of, the citizen-based LPP.  There were many who were very supportive in getting this advisory board formed.  These are Brenton Lewis, who is the Llano City Manager, Mike Hazel, who is a former council-member, Sherry Simpson, who is also a former council-member, Jeanne Puryear, who is also a former council-member, and Toni Milam, who is City Secretary.  Eugene Long, Public Works Director, is, of course, also involved.  The advisory board has sought, and continues to seek, the direct involvement of those groups most tightly connected to the parks system, such as the little league and soccer teams.

These two entities, the city’s advisory board and the LPP, are now working in unity, both seeing a win-win situation for all concerned.  It is a beautiful expression of this community’s ability to come together over a common cause benefiting the entire city and its future generations.  Other organizations are involved as well.  The Crawfish Open offers its very important, continuing support.  The Llano Citizens Gardeners are establishing community gardens on city park land under the coordination of Chris Slade.  The Llano Alliance for Drug Intervention (LADI) would like to establish a disc golf course on city park land.  “Great,” says Jesse.  “Let’s find common ground.  The LPP likes to see different groups pull together like this for the benefit of Llano and the greater, common good.”

The LPP believes that strong parks and recreation facilities are essential for child development and play a crucial role in maintaining a strong family unit, strengthening the backbone of the community.  By working with the larger Llano community, and by continuing to work closely with the city’s advisory board, the LPP intends to find the long-term financing to then execute a 10-15-year plan that will truly unveil the full potential of the city’s parks, these gems in the rough.  The near-future radiance of this emerald string of parks will be a major draw to the surrounding communities — a draw extending even to Austin and San Antonio.

The LPP envisions a day when Llano’s parks themselves will become a destination spot for families and day-trippers, providing high-quality recreation for people of all types and of all ages.  In fact, the LPP would like more seniors involved in the executive committee and more children involved in the volunteer work efforts, thus facilitating an intergenerational community-building.  This keeps involvement rotating, while allowing the guidance of the LPP to be handed-off to succeeding generations.

The LPP will be presenting its vision and plan to the City Council on August 4th.  The following is a small highlighting of some of the justifications (for this vision and plan) that will be presented to council.  These justifications are backed by numbers, pictures and examples (from parks and recreation facilities in other communities) produced by the LPP’s extensive research into the community benefits of an attractive, usable and facility-rich parks and recreation system.

Economic Development

The real property value of homes is increased for existing homeowners situated in neighborhoods that contain attractive, usable and facility-rich parks.  Such neighborhoods also, of course, attract home-buyers.  Both professionals and affluent retirees, with their relatively high-levels of disposable incomes, are attracted to, and retained within, communities that feature such parks.  This results in increased city revenues that more than make-up for this investment in parks and recreation facilities.

Smart Growth

Voters overwhelming support the development of city parks.  It’s a cause that everyone from business-owners to environmentalists can support.  Park development is thus a community-unifying endeavor, allowing the kind of smart growth that is sometimes blocked in the political gridlock that meets other development initiatives.  More and more cities and towns are seeing mixed-use development as the way forward in smart growth.  Attractive, usable, facility-rich parks are an almost-expected adjunct to such mixed-use developments.  Such parks and mixed-use developments strengthen a community’s urban core while limiting suburban sprawl and protecting the community’s rural features and attractive country fringe reaches from over-development.

Tourism

Attractive and facility-rich parks are ideal sites for special events, festivals and sports tournaments that attract tourists.  Such parks are also ideal sites on which to situate cultural attractions, museums, zoos, etc., which also attract tourists.  Making parks beautiful through landscaping, and educational through ecological stewardship, creates a showcase that is also drawing of tourists.

Public Health

Regular contact with nature is essential to an individual’s true well-being and a community’s quality of life.  This contact with nature is, of course, facilitated by the presence of attractive, usable and facility-rich parks within the community.  Such parks also highly encourage the physical activity essential to personal fitness.  A healthy community is a happy community.  A happy community is one that will attract others.  Parks and green spaces also help mitigate both pollution and the heat-island effect common of towns and cities.  While it’s true that the city’s parks would do this even if they were not further developed, a lack of further development could keep the city’s parks underutilized.  This increases the risk that the parks could become lost to less beneficial types of development.

Public Safety

Parks rich in facilities provide many means of reducing stress, which results in a more peaceful, less reactionary community.  Attractive, useable and facility-rich parks serve as natural community gathering spaces, which promote social ties and community-bonding.  The resultant stronger community is one that is less likely to fall victim to crime.  It is also more resilient in the face of economic downturn as the community bands together in such times.  Conversely, unattractive parks tend to become barren spaces used mostly for illegal or illicit activities.

“This is great time to become involved in the Llano Parks Project,” notes Jesse.  “There are many different groups ready to make Llano light-up — and there are a lot of individual doers in this town.  The LPP is just one example of a group filled with such people.”

Llano Parks Project
www.llanoparksproject.org

For more information, contact Jesse Blackmon at 830-613-1825 or email jesse@revolutiontech.net.

Story by: Gregory M. Klein