Bedford County supervisors approve park plan, broadband grant application | Govt. and Politics

BEDFORD — Bedford County will soon have a park master plan to help maintain and improve public parks, fulfilling a strategic priority.

The Bedford County Board of Supervisors on Monday unanimously approved the acceptance of a proposal from Salem-based Halcyon Planning & Design to create a park master plan.

With three large regional parks and many other smaller public park areas to maintain, the Bedford County Parks and Recreation Department knew a master plan was needed, and the board of supervisors identified it as a strategic priority last year. After vetting four proposals, parks and rec staff, with the recreation advisory board, recommended Halcyon as the preferred company.

The master plan’s focus primarily will be on facilities and other physical needs at public park sites more than programming, according to county documents.

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Public input is an important component of developing a parks master plan, and the firm’s plans to involve the community was one of the things that made their offer most attractive, according to Wyatt Woody, director of Bedford County parks and rec.

According to their proposal, representatives from Halcyon will attend meetings of area civic groups and recreation clubs that are interested in planning work, and the company also will set up a booth at different community events so members of the public have the chance to offer input on development of their shared parks. Surveys also might be sent out, or made available online.

Site evaluations will be conducted during the process.

Completing the master plan will take an estimated eight months, according to county documentation. Guiding the process will be a steering committee composed of community group leaders and recreation advisory board members, who will meet monthly to guide and review the park master plan development.

Halcyon’s proposal costs less than the budgeted $75,000 designated in the Bedford County capital improvement plan, coming in at a $61,000 estimate.

Also at the meeting, the board unanimously approved the submission of a Department of Housing and Community Development Virginia Telecommunication grant in partnership with internet service provider Shentel for the year 2023.

If the requested VATI grant is awarded, Shentel — one of the ISPs Bedford County has partnered with to service underserved and unserved areas in broadband access expansion initiatives — it would allow the company to expedite the build-out of an expansive segment of land in the northern part of the county. This project could service at least 550 more locations, according to county documentation, and could be completed within 18 to 24 months instead of six years.

Federal efforts to support universal broadband access, particularly in rural areas, have been ongoing especially since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to work from home, or do school remotely. This shift highlighted disparities in internet access.

According to county documents, Bedford County is eligible for further VATI grant money due to changes in how broadband officially is defined in Virginia, specifically related to download and upload speeds. These have gone from speeds of 25 Mbps down speeds and 3 Mbps up to 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.

If awarded, the new VATI grant would contribute toward Shentel’s use of money from a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund award already being used in the identified northern section of the county, according to county documents.

No extra cost to the county is expected if this grant is awarded.

Previously, Bedford County and Shentel received more than $7 million in VATI grant money, an amount afterward raised to $9 million to allow a project shift from hybrid wireless and wireline infrastructure to wireline-only, an “extremely positive project change,” according to county documents and John Putney, broadband coordinator in Bedford County.

To view an interactive broadband availability map and find answers to frequently asked questions related to high speed internet access in Bedford County, visit the Bedford County website and click “Broadband Authority” under the “Boards Commissions” menu item.

The interactive map launched last week.

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