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I'll take the burger, you pay for the study!

I'll take the dollar burger ... hold the fries and I'll drink water. Even if the bun is stale and the patty is the same mystery meat they used to serve in my elementary school cafeteria, it may be of more use than how some money is being spent today.

In case you've forgotten, in last week's paper staffer Carey Johnson said that commissioners could have given away dollar hamburgers, a single item at the dollar store or maybe even some kind of lottery ticket -- OR they could spend money on a study of recreation opportunities in Franklin County.

Obviously, they paid out the big bucks to study recreation, although I'd have preferred that my $1 share of that study, based on per capita cost sharing, be used for a burger, or even some useless trinket at the Bargains for a Buck store.

Even so, the study is better than a ticket in the statewide con game our beloved legislators love to call the Education Lottery, even though its benefits to education are meager, if they exist at all.

So, why the skepticism about a study of recreation?

Because it's just that: Another blankety blank study that, unless I miss my guess, will be sitting on a shelf gathering dust in a few months, basically unread, unloved and ignored.

Recreation is another of those topics that have been studied to death in Franklin County and look where we are: We have a park in Pilot that floods; the county was given nearly a million bucks several years ago and still hasn't gotten that park open; the county-owned parks are not being well maintained and lack facilities and, worst of all, most of the county's recreational programs are aimed at adults, not the children who could most benefit.

None of this is new or unknown.

Almost two decades ago, a lot of us served on a recreation committee that met for months, discussing and sometimes cussing recreation options until we came up with a list of recommendations that represented literally a grassroots effort at giving Franklin Countians the kinds of recreational opportunities the residents wanted.

Not much of it went anywhere because: 1) Ideas cost money; 2) Kids can't vote; 3) One hugely popular idea was a large public swimming pool, a suggestion that sank like a lead balloon and possibly for reasons I suspect are rather troubling.

I remember a group of us even taking a chartered bus to Rock Hill, S.C. to see the incredible athletic facilities that were built there and which routinely draw in hundreds of kids -- and their parents, aunts and uncles, etc. -- for tournaments and other events.

All of that means big bucks for motels, hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses in that region, making the investment in those recreation facilities a pretty good one.

Once our little group of renegades who dared to do actual research got back to town, those ideas were shot deader than a door nail by politicians who had absolutely no vision and no commitment to the future.

Sadly, I see no reason to even dare to hope that much has changed from those days so I fear the safe bet is that this study is an exercise in futility unless you've got some shelving you want to sell to the county.

As a result, I'll take the burger please. And I'll find a way to buy my own fries and will be content to just drink water.

That way, I'll enjoy some benefit from my dollar contribution!

It's not difficult

Paying more than $60 grand to study recreation when so much has been studied already doesn't make much sense.

What's to study?
We need facilities -- and we need the right kinds of facilities and a commitment that those be properly maintained and staffed.

For example, the county school system is in the process of planning a huge new athletic complex for Louisburg High School that is sorely needed and long overdue.

But why is it being built just for the high school?

Why not think bigger and convert the plans into a truly functional recreational complex that can serve much of the county?

Instead of being used just for school activities -- and sitting almost entirely unused during the crucial summer months -- why not have a facility that can be used year round for a wide variety of recreational uses?

Taking that a step further and thinking even bigger, why not try to entice Louisburg College to join the project?

The college could use additional athletic facilities and this would be an excellent way to foster "town and gown" cooperation that would be beneficial to all.

Imagine what a large aquatic center could mean to this community, area schools and Louisburg College!

Swim clubs, swimming competitions, water-proofing youngsters, fantastic exercise opportunities for people of all ages, the list can go on and on.

But will it happen?

Probably not.

Keep expectations low

The company hired to do the study may try to float a trial balloon about such ideas but will almost certainly be taken aside and told to tone it down and keep expectations low.

That has happened before -- and there is no reason to think it won't happen again.

Exactly that seemed to happen as the communitywide recreation study in the very late 1990s began to wind down and some were strongly backing aquatic facilities -- as a joint project between the county, Louisburg and Louisburg College.

At the time, the college president, a wonderful lady, Rosemary Gillet-Karan who we all called "Dr. GK" because her name was such a mouthful, was "all in" on such cooperation.

But the powers that be didn't buy in -- and before most of us knew what was happening Dr. GK was gone in a flash and the explanations were, to say the least, vague. The timing was suspicious though.

At the time, I remember long-time local newsman, the late Asher Johnson, commenting that a public swimming pool was the often-fatal "third rail" of local politics, suggesting that Dr. GK had unwittingly contributed to her own demise by backing such a controversial project.

That is particularly interesting since, history indicates, shortly after the end of World War II, returning veterans who were members of the local Rotary and Lions clubs wanted to do something for their community.

According to news stories at the time, the two clubs raised the money and actually purchased a site for a community pool.

But all these years later, there still is no pool and no one seems to remember what happened to the two civic clubs' excellent idea or the site they selected.

Bottom line, to make any of this work is going to take a lot more than some consultant piecing together a "study" that is mostly boilerplate verbage from other sources which may or may not be applicable to Franklin County.

We pretty much know what we need -- and there are lots of folks in and around the community who can fill in the details.

But none of this becomes reality without a political commitment, money (especially long-term financing) and it will all work better if the entire community, from kids to seniors, will be served.

Otherwise, we're spending more than $60 grand on just another study that will sit there gathering dust beside all the other studies.

Good recreation programs, properly designed and reaching the right people, can be largely self-supporting, at least after they are built.

A few, like what we saw years ago in Rock Hill, can actually be economic development assets that will bring people and money into a community.

But it's going to take more than doling out huge amounts of money to out-of-area consultants to create recreational programs we can be proud of -- and, judging by history, that commitment is woefully lacking in our beloved county.

Hope I'm wrong ... and if I am, I'll be looking for recipes for cooking crow instead of dining on a stale, dollar burger!

A nice drive

As this was being written, contractors were putting the finishing touches on the resurfacing on N.C. 56 East from Louisburg to the county line.

From what I can tell, they did a really nice job -- and, despite predictions, did a very good, organized job of controlling traffic as well. The resurfacing is a huge improvement, although it may take a little getting used to the lane re-striping in and just outside town limits.

The downside is that the highway will likely become even more of a race track than it was previously -- unless the highway patrol steps up enforcement, which seems unlikely.

This same company that handled the N.C. 56 project is the apparent low bidder on U.S. 401 improvements in southern Franklin County and, assuming they actually get the contract for that work, hopefully they can keep that two-plus-year project as well organized and well done as this much-simpler resurfacing project.

Even so, the U.S. 401 project will likely be frustrating at times -- but when it's done, it will have been well worth the frustration!

Enjoy your weekend ... schools on regular calendars will be starting back before long, Friday nights will be devoted to high school football and we all know what will come all too soon. So, enjoy and make memories with the kids and grandkids.


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