When it comes to recreation, it shouldn’t have to be either/or.
When they get built is another story, because there is only so much funding to go around right now. To be more specific, there’s about $1 million in park fees in county coffers at the moment, and there’s about $20 million in unfunded projects.
That’s not as depressing as it sounds. San Luis Obispo County Parks also taps various grant programs to fund new facilities such as parks, playgrounds and trails. (And, yes, private donations help, too.)
For a big project like the Bob Jones Trail extension — a 4.4-mile stretch from the Octagon Barn in San Luis Obispo to the staging area on Ontario Road — grants will be critically needed to cover the estimated construction cost of $10.5 million.
But here’s the rub: Such projects often have to be shovel-ready to qualify for grants.
Bob Jones is almost there; a request for proposals for engineering and other preliminary work is ready to go. That study will cost an estimated $1.1 million. The county has $775,000 in grant funding, which means it’s shy $380,000.
County parks staff has suggested a different course: wait to see if work on a staging area at the Octagon Barn comes in under cost, and put the surplus toward Bob Jones. It’s also possible the project could qualify for a San Luis Obispo Council of Governments grant, but that won’t be known for at least another six months.
If this weren’t such an important regional project, we’d advise waiting, but the Bob Jones Trail is one of the most heavily used recreational facilities in the county. If anything, on weekends the trail is overused — the small parking lot is overflowing, and the trail is often congested.
Consider, too, that the trail is a revenue-generating attraction. Visitors often combine a walk on the trail with dining and shopping in Avila Beach, bringing sales tax dollars to the county.
The longer the Bob Jones Trail extension project is delayed, the more costly it’s likely to become.
An extension has been in the works for years, and we — along with thousands of others in and outside the county — would like to see it proceed as soon as possible. We can think of few facilities in our county that serve so many people — young and old, walkers and runners, cyclists and Rollerbladers, serious exercisers and casual strollers, and dogs of every shape and size.
The longer the project is delayed, the more costly it’s likely to become. On top of that, supporters worry that if it drags on much longer, environmental studies may have to be updated.
Supporters also say that it doesn’t make much sense to wait on funding sources that are iffy at best. Waiting for funding that might never materialize is “kicking the can down the road,” said Helene Finger, an engineer and Cal Poly faculty member who serves on the county’s Trails Advisory Committee.
We agree. If the Board of Supervisors doesn’t want to pull the entire $380,000 from park fees — which is understandable, given how politicized that source of funding has become — we urge it to consider allocations from elsewhere in the budget.
The board could add the condition that if money for preliminary planning comes in from other sources, it could be used to reimburse whatever fund the county draws from.
Other possibilities: Go out to bid, since it’s possible bids could come in lower than expected. Or, make the project more affordable by breaking it into phases.
It also makes sense to tap private donations. We urge the Land Conservancy or some other nonprofit organization to consider taking on a fundraising effort as a community service.
Bottom line: The Bob Jones Trail is a treasure, but it’s experiencing growing pains. We urge the county to do what it can to extend the trail as soon as possible.
That would not be ignoring Nipomo’s need for a skate park; supervisors already have agreed to fund the design phase of that project.
Rather, it would recognize the importance of the Bob Jones Trail as a multi-use recreational treasure that serves all ages and areas of the county.
If you go
The county Parks and Recreation Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at the County Government Center to discuss the next steps for the Bob Jones Trail.