The concept of doing a county-wide open space master plan originated back in 2008, when the county engaged the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to conduct an “Open Space Goals and Finance Assessment”. The study included a summary of existing conditions, demographics, and related trends. A professionally administered, statistically valid telephone survey of three hundred (300) randomly selected Rockwall County voters was conducted, as well as an online survey that 38 of 57 invited stakeholders responded to. A public workshop was also held to collect input from interested citizens.
The primary takeaway was that the majority of elected officials, staff from each of the cities and citizens agreed that preserving open space and establishing trail connectivity throughout the county were important to address. The stakeholders also supported the recommendation that a countywide planning effort was needed to explore opportunities for how to address these concerns, and identify funding sources and partnerships available to aid in implementation. The 2008 study culminated in three recommendations:
- Enhance County-Wide Open Space Planning Efforts
- Educate the Public about the Benefits of Open Space Protection
- Explore Existing and New Sources of Funding to Create Additional Parks and Trails in Rockwall County
The Open Space Master Plan effort will address all three of these recommendations as follows:
To address the first recommendation, the county established the Open Space Alliance in 2011 and contracted with the our team to complete an official Master Plan document this year. The planning process will build on information from the 2008 TPL study, an updated demographics report completed by TPL in 2013, and the latest plans and information provided to our team by each of the cities. The plan will place an emphasis on addressing challenges that are common to two or more communities within the county, or that require participation of multiple agencies and stakeholders. Identifying specific steps, responsibilities and timelines for action and implementation was also a specific charge for our team.
Our scope of work also includes efforts to continue education and awareness about the importance of open space to things like economic development, water and air quality, health and wellness, education, and quality of life. You will see an education component in much of what we do over the next seven months, including blog posts on the alliance website, materials presented at meetings, and social media.
Finally, one of the primary reasons for a county-wide plan is to help position the county, cities and other stakeholders for available funding and resource support. The county’s transportation consortium is an excellent example of how the cities working together has enhanced our ability to compete for, and secure funding for much needed road construction. There are resources available from agencies like the Corps of Engineers, Texas Water Development Board, Parks & Wildlife, etc. for open space conservation, multimodal trail systems, green infrastructure implementation and other types of projects that we want our communities to have access to. Our community is also blessed with many people and organizations who are willing to contribute what I like to call the “3 T’s” – time, talent and treasure. Many of you have already volunteered to help or proposed some excellent ideas. This plan will evaluate and propose options to organize these in a manner that enables groups with similar interests to get together to make a positive impact on our neighborhoods, communities and county!
Kevin Shepherd is a Rockwall resident and co-founder of VERDUNITY, the consulting firm leading the Open Space Planning effort. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read similar posts from Kevin and his colleagues at www.verdunity.com/news-and-views.