1. Opinion

Turnabout for park will boost economy

Kudos to Paul Whalen, who could become the model for giving government a kick in the grass. Whalen, the vice president of the Brooksville United Soccer, along with club president David Shrader and Hernando Youth League president Mike Walker, are part of a private effort to bolster the county's public parks.

The youth sports organizations ponied up $6,000 and hired licensed contractors to turn two practice baseball diamonds at Ernie Wever Youth Park into soccer pitches to allow for both local play and to attract tournaments. Already two competitions are scheduled and those out-of-town teams help fill the cash tills at local restaurants and other businesses during weekend play.

It is a significant reversal from nine months ago when county staffers first proposed shuttering much of the Ernie Wever's athletics fields to help balance a county budget drained by four years of falling property values. It was an ill-conceived ploy that ended after the Hernando Youth League said it would pay $25,000 a year for five years to help cover maintenance costs at the park where 1,200 kids play sports.

But the amenities of a polished park system provide more than a highly desirable quality of life asset for the locals. It provides a boost to businesses' bottom lines. In July, according to the Tourist Development Bureau, the fields played host to 240 players on 16 teams in a Dixie League baseball tournament. It produced an estimated $118,000 for the economy including nearly $32,000 on motel stays.

The county often is host to regional soccer tournaments at its complex at Anderson Snow Park in Spring Hill. Trying to duplicate and grow that success at the Ernie Wever Youth Park is a logical step for the county's fledgling sports-related tourism efforts.

The local sports leagues understand the value of a top-notch park system. So, too, should local business owners. They shouldn't be shy about supporting the parks and recreation department the next time commissioners consider how to balance the county budget.