Evaluating Approaches for Gathering Public Input in Master Planning Efforts for Future Development of a Recreational Reservoir
Keywords:Recreation management preferences, master planning, public input surveys
AbstractLocal government agencies strive to incorporate public input when planning for future development of recreational amenities. In order for local leaders to be accountable to their citizens, they must make a sincere attempt to establish mechanisms by which public input is included in decision making. In this study, a local community was innovative in pursuing its first master plan for a large reservoir that provides recreation for a nearby Midwestern city and surrounding county. Plan writers experimented with different approaches for obtaining public input into the master planning process. Although public surveys are common among local government agencies, they may lack the sophistication of theoretically driven research of academicians and researchers in parks and recreation. Public input surveys therefore provide an opportunity for academic researchers to bridge theory and practice, by critically evaluating the applied research process with agencies creating a master plan for the first time, in the real world of local government and recreation planning efforts. This study evaluated different approaches for gathering input from citizens on their preferences for future management and development of a local reservoir. In this case, the lease between a private water company (owner) and local park and recreation department (lessee) is set to expire in 2021, which prompted a master planning process. Data from both a mail survey and a public meeting questionnaire were analyzed to assess residents’ preferences for the future management of the reservoir, to examine different groups that participated in the surveys, and to evaluate the role of public input in the planning process. Results from mail surveys and public meeting surveys showed some similar responses, namely generally support for conservation and protection of public access to the reservoir, rather than for private development in future scenarios. Other preferences varied for different user groups, and level of recreation participation was related to preferences by groups for different management alternatives. Management implications are drawn from the collaborative planning effort that occurred across several agencies, including a planning commission, park and recreation department, and other government and citizen organizations. Recommendations are included for improving public participation approaches in planning efforts for the future in the community studied as well as in other local communities embarking on master planning in water resources and recreation.
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