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New Chapel Hill parks and recreation director holds meet-and-greet for community

Director of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Phillip Fleischmann speaks with two community members at the Homestead Aquatic Center in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Fleischmann said that, because he grew up in Raleigh and has family in the triangle area, he was very excited to get back to the area. “I was eager to come back to a place that I believed valued parks and greenspace and also community recreation,” Fleischmann said. “It is an honor and a privilege to serve all of you.”

Citizens of Chapel Hill and Parks and Recreation staff members gathered at the Homestead Aquatic Center Tuesday for the third meet-and-greet of the new year. 

Phil Fleischmann, the Parks and Recreation director who was appointed in May and began working in the position on June 10, said he holds these events to hear concerns directly from the residents of Chapel Hill and make himself visible to the public. 

The event took place in the lobby of the community swimming pool. There were “wish trees” posted around the room, on which residents of Chapel Hill could write their concerns, wishes or thoughts on Post-it Notes to be read by the department. 

Wes Tilghman, Chapel Hill's marketing and sponsorship coordinator, said the meet-and-greet was intentionally informal. 

“We wanna have a grassroots opportunity for people to share some of their ideas or their best wishes, or maybe they share with us some different barriers that keep them from participating with us,” he said. “This particularly gives us an opportunity primarily to meet Phil, meet some of us and just kind of put faces with names.”

Fleischmann, who is is a Raleigh native and UNC graduate, said he realized he wanted to work in parks and recreation because the field is about helping people and trying to make a difference in the community. 

Fleischmann said he holds these events to hear from citizens and get to know them. He said inclusion of residents in park and recreational planning is a large part of how he operates. 

“These community listening sessions are one part of my strategy to try to make sure that we’re responsive to the needs of the community,” he said. “I am trying to be visible within the community as well, so folks can get to know me, and I can get to know them. It’s best to learn about the community we’re serving through interaction with community members.”

Around 10 community members attended, willfully filling out the “wish trees” and voicing their concerns with members of the department. 

Many community members expressed their concern for preservation of green open space. Specifically, attendees expressed resistance toward a recent plan to develop affordable housing on the American Legion property. 

Anne Brashear, a resident who lives close by, said that it had been primarily woodlands before this plan, and she is one of many residents who use it as a cut-through to school, work and appointments.

“We need to leave that as a park, a green open space,” she said. “So that the people living in the low-income housing next to it, and in the affordable housing down by the cemetery and the people in my neighborhood have a place to go to be outside and to walk in the woods.”

Another resident, Priscilla Boomer, said she’s seeking a more dementia-friendly hiking trail for senior citizens, because her husband has dementia, and they enjoy doing activities together. 

Fleischmann said he is interested in the feedback of all citizens, young and old. He said he encourages students to be involved with recreation off-campus as well. 

“Students are using our trails, they may be utilizing one of our recreational facilities,” he said. “I know Campus Recreation has lots of options, but we welcome students’ involvement in our programs, and also their feedback.”

@DTHCityState |

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