County parks planning progresses

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HANCOCK COUNTY – Leaders’ exploration into a county parks system has entered a new phase.

After meeting with local focus groups on the topic, a consulting firm working for the county is preparing a survey for residents to provide feedback on what they’d like to see.

This spring the Hancock County Commissioners entered into an agreement not to exceed $8,000 for a first phase of work with PROS Consulting, a Brownsburg-based parks and recreation management consulting firm. The leaders said they’re motivated to create outdoor amenities as the county’s population and economy grows. Last month, the commissioners approved $15,000 for the next phase, which involves the survey.

Leon Younger, president of PROS Consulting, told the commissioners his firm met with three focus groups totaling nearly 30 community members.

“Overall the information that we received was very, very supportive of a county parks system,” Younger said. “People really felt like the issues come down to where the land would be acquired and what kind of amenities people would really like to see. Overwhelmingly people really saw the value of it in terms of connecting city park facilities or township park facilities to a county park system. They saw the value of it especially in trails and the connectivity of trails, not only just for walking, biking, but also health and wellness was a major element.”

Discussion addressed sports fields as well, Younger continued, adding focus group members reported many county residents travel outside of the county to access them.

“The big thing I think people were more concerned about was making sure that whatever the public wanted, that the county parks system would really focus on their needs and to get as much information as possible,” he said.

That’s where the next phase comes in.

“Through the survey we can find out what people’s priorities are,” Younger said.

About 3,500 surveys will be randomly mailed out to Hancock County residents. Respondents will be able to provide their answers by mailing back surveys, completing them online or completing them over the phone, which would also allow respondents to provide answers in a language other than English. PROS Consulting will work with ETC Institute, a market research and survey company based in Kansas, on the survey efforts.

Younger said the county commissioners would approve questions before surveys are sent out.

The companies guarantee at least 600 responses from the mailed-out surveys, Younger said. He added that his past work indicates far more than the guaranteed minimum are typically received. The survey will also be available on the county’s website for respondents outside of the 3,500 targets in the mail, which Younger expects significant participation in as well.

“It would give us a really good piece of information, give you a decision tool whether you want to move forward or not,” he told the commissioners.

But commissioner Marc Huber isn’t so sure.

Marc Huber

“I’m worried about getting participation,” he said. “I know they’re going to guarantee 600, but in a county that’s 75 or 80,000 people, that’s not a ton. I’m all for the project moving forward, but to me that sounds like awful low numbers for a county of our size.”

Commissioner Bill Spalding expressed confidence the return will be sufficient and worthwhile, especially due to the online availability.

Bill Spalding

“I think with the younger people today, as far as being tech savvy, they don’t hit the mailbox as much as they hit the computer to take a look and answer their questions,” he said.

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