Do St. Charles County residents use or even know much about their county parks? Do they go to the St. Louis Zoo or attend St. Louis Blues or Cardinal games? What recreational amenities should county parks offer? How much do they like to hunt and fish? Do they attend amateur sports?
Questions like these will be part of what County Executive Steve Ehlmann is calling it a “scientific survey” of a community opinions on local and regional parks, entertainment opportunities and recreation activities.
The St. Charles County Council agreed on May 9 to a $43,000 bid from a consulting firm, Show Me Victories of St. Louis, to conduct the survey in the next few months.
The survey is expected to help guide the county’s planning and decisions on its park system, and perhaps influence county officials on whether they want to support recreational, cultural and entertainment amenities in other parts of the St. Louis area, such as the St. Louis Zoo.
The survey may get underway in early June with results available for county officials in mid-July. The telephone portion of the survey is expected to involve 600 respondents and other participants can fill out the survey on the county’s web site.
“This would be a scientific survey to find out exactly how much our people think about our parks, how much they use them and how they use other facilities, not only in St. Charles County, but in the entire region,” Ehlmann said.
He said he was prompted to include the survey in budget discussions with the council when St. Louis Zoo officials told him in December that a Zoo survey shows St. Charles County residents support for the zoo.
Zoo officials met with the council in April to explore whether the county would agree to place a sales tax increase on the ballot to help pay for increasing expenses and upkeep at the zoo. They said that more than 90 percent of county residents in the zoo’s own survey in February viewed the zoo favorably.
“That may be true, but I’d like to go ahead and find out, number one, to what extent to they use those institutions in the St. Louis City and County, to what extent do they go to professional sports – whether it’s the Cardinals or the Blues – or out to O’Fallon for minor league stuff,” Ehlmann said. “To what extent are they using our parks as opposed to municipal parks?”
Legislation pending in the Missouri General Assembly has to be enacted before the county could decide on whether to put a sales tax on the ballot. The bill would allow St. Charles, Jefferson, St. Louis and Franklin counties and the city of St. Louis to place a sales tax measure on the ballot.
Currently the zoo receives support from the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District, formed in 1972, which provide property tax revenue from the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County. The district provides financial support for the zoo, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Science Center and St. Louis Art Museum.
Ehlmann said if county officials want to continue a discussion about St. Louis city and county institutions, he would like to know how important they are to county residents.
“Unless we do a more scientific survey, I don’t think we really know how much the man on the street really feels on some of these issues,” he said.
Councilman Mike Klinghammer [District 6] said it was critical that the county find out what type of activities residents want to see in their parks before it spends millions of dollars.
Councilman Mike Elam [District 3] said there are marketing opportunities that need to be explored for publicizing the park system and agree that the county has to ask what kind of activities people want there.
“We have a wonderful park system,” Elam said. “The problem is that it’s a great secret that we have a wonderful park system.”
Joann Leykam, the county’s director of administration, told the council that the county did a major study on what residents wanted in its park system several decades ago.
“Here we are almost 20 years later and it’s a good time for a course correction if we need to do one,” Leykam said.
Meanwhile, the county’s parks program continues to grow. Lindenwood University announced on April 29 that the university was donating the historic Daniel Boone home and nearly 300 acres to the county. The transfer of the property is expected to take over in mid to late May.
At the news conference, Ehlmann said the new park adds significantly to the acreage in the county set aside for parks and is a “gorgeous” piece of largely undeveloped property. The home is off Hwy. F in a largely rural southwestern part of the county near New Melle.
The new park will add to 3,174 acres in county parkland that now includes 11 parks. The county opened the 80-acre College Meadows Park in Cottleville last year, as part of an agreement with St. Charles Community College on land owned by the school. The Pitman Hill/Kisker Park near Weldon Spring is expected to pen in 2017. Along with opened parks, the county also has 542 acres in undeveloped land.