Public outdoor recreation is a privilege offering limitless possibilities for everything from athletic training to scenery and wildlife viewing.
I regularly take the opportunity to visit the beautiful 38-acre Bidgood Park, which I had the fortune of working with the Bidgood Family on creating. This park, which officially opened in October 2014, is one of the many features the City of St. John‚Äôs has deemed suitable for maintenance cuts. The garbage cans are already removed and the large investment will quickly grow over.
Trails and parks are no doubt expensive; rain washes out paths, structures freeze and crack, trees fall over, kids vandalize and garbage builds. However, the benefits of our built trail network infrastructure are immense. These include benefits to health (physical and mental), active transportation, tourism, foot-traffic commerce, stream bank stabilization, riparian river protection, flood control and increased property values, to name just a few. Other alternatives exist ‚ÄĒ specialized gyms and fitness centres are a dime a dozen ‚ÄĒ but public outdoor recreation is available for all age groups and income classes.
The decisions by the City of St. John‚Äôs to cut funding for the Grand Concourse are not related to budget constraints or property concerns. The city has lavishly thrown another $2.57 million at St. John‚Äôs Sports and Entertainment in this budget for the Convention Centre and the Ice Caps. Many people will never be fortunate enough to see the inside of these venues, while the trail network is fully accessible.
Also, the Grand Concourse is a non-profit partnership with no claim to any land, working as directed by members on behalf of members. Sure, the Grand Concourse Authority will defend its integrated network and organization, as it was built through unique, irreplaceable partnerships and meant to last. Private industry has admitted great interest in the opportunity to take over landscaping and maintenance services. The city has actively sought to move these services out of public hands and at the same time direct even more money towards far more expensive projects and operations with limited benefit to most taxpayers.
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There was no need to cut funding, especially in the heavy-handed, poorly communicated way it was done. Funding support may ebb and flow, but sudden, drastic cuts to operations have no other purpose than to disenfranchise the Grand Concourse. This was incredibly shortsighted and unfortunate.
Shame on council and management for devaluing what their predecessors understood to be an absolute blessing and one of the greatest achievements this city has seen.
The Grand Concourse is an award-winning, collaborative partnership envied by cities everywhere. I know the authority‚Äôs crews are the most dedicated, capable and hard-working people, many of whom will now be laid off.
It takes decades to build the human resources, experience and capacity to efficiently manage a system like ours. I have no doubt the trails and parks will suffer, and that investments by Paul Johnson, the Bidgood Family and too many other generous donors will be squandered by the shortsighted, highly political decisions of our current municipal leaders.
The Grand Concourse is in jeopardy and I urge them to reconsider. I urge the city to mend its partnerships with the organization and its neighbours on behalf of the walkers, cyclists, the elderly, pet-owners and all other residents of the region who are going to lose wonderful opportunities to go outdoors.