At the urging of residents, Holly Springs recently expanded the amount of time Womble Park is open to the public for free.
Until earlier this month, the new turf field at Womble Park was open to the public for “free play” about 15 hours per week. The hours changed each week depending on when the field was rented out and when town staff could monitor play.
The town recently released a schedule that doubles the amount of free-play time for the rest of the summer, said Adam Huffman, assistant parks and recreation director.
The newly added free-play time is mostly from 8-11 a.m. on weekdays, but the town has added some hours on the weekends, too.
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“It’s an evolutionary process,” he said. “We’re trying to find the balance between getting the hours the town desires and protecting what we consider to be an important asset.”
The expanded hours come in the wake of controversy.
After five kids were reprimanded for jumping over a locked fence at Womble Park, residents scolded Holly Springs Town Council members for restricting access to the turf field.
Since the incident, Holly Springs leaders have taken steps to reduce the penalty for those who are caught trespassing at town parks. Town staff is working on an amendment to town rules that would scrap a year-long ban in favor of fines and community service.
While parents said they were glad the council is seeking to reduce the punishment for trespassers, they urged the town to focus on the “bigger picture” of expanding free-play hours at Womble.
Julie Cox, whose son was also at the park, said she was relieved to hear that the parks and recreation department had made progress.
“The whole situation was unfortunate,” she said. “But in the end, if good has come out of it, it was a worthwhile experience.”
Holly Springs posted the new free-play schedule at the turf field on its website and continues to explore other options for expanding free-play hours.
The town was able to expand free-play hours for the rest of the summer because a Holly Springs police officer is temporarily available to monitor play at the field, Huffman said.
The officer will return to his normal duties by mid-September, and the town will need to find another way to observe activity.
Holly Springs spent $3 million to renovate the park, which it re-opened in November, so it wants to protect the field from damage by monitoring play at all times.
The town’s new fiber network may be able to help, said Town Manager Chuck Simmons.
“One option we are in the process of implementing involves placing security cameras at the soccer fields that can be monitored by staff during regular working hours,” he wrote in an email. “The Town is in the process of extending fiber to that location.”
It will take about two weeks to lay the fiber and install the cameras, Simmons said. The town prefers to use the cameras rather than hire an extra staff member at $10 an hour.
“That does not sound like a lot, but this may not be the most efficient use of our resources in the long run,” he said.