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ECU grad student develops recreation master plan for Dare County

May 1, 2013

By Alexa DeCarr
ECU News Services

East Carolina University graduate student Ryan Merritt has made a name for himself during his time in North Carolina – particularly in one coastal county.

Merritt, who came to ECU from Iowa last spring, led the development of a recreation master plan for Dare County this semester. He carried out the work as a teaching assistant in a parks and facilities planning class under the direction of Dr. Carol Kline, assistant professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies.

Ryan Merritt
The course is designed so that a class of undergraduates is paired with a county to develop recreational plans for the community during the semester. This semester, the class was assigned to design a 10-year, comprehensive master plan for Dare County – located on the Outer Banks – based on the needs and the wishes of the community’s residents.

Merritt facilitated public meetings, held a meeting with the parks and recreation advisory board for the county, and delivered hard copy surveys to local businesses and electronic ones for residents.

“Ryan had a big leadership role for the class,” Kline said. “He did so well that I got emails after some of the meetings saying what a good job he did.”

The master plan, which Kline said will be released to the county in July, will make short- and long-term recommendations for Dare based on analysis of the county’s historical and natural resources, public demand, community benefits and cost effectiveness.

“We wanted to know what the community demanded, what they really want to see,” Merritt said.

Merritt said some of the ideas involve a new swimming pool for the community as well as hiking and biking paths.

He also took groups of students on his own to Dare County when Kline was unable to attend.

“It is a testament to his maturity and professionalism,” Kline said, “I’m really proud of him.”

Merritt said that he was happy to be a part of the experience.

“It’s a great for the students,” he said. “They get to be involved in the planning process and help a community while getting hands-on experience.”

Merritt completed his graduate studies in only three semesters and will be graduating this spring. He recently defended his master’s thesis on vacation recreation activity preferences while traveling. And he already has a job lined up after graduation: an event coordinator with Iowa Sports Foundation, a company that organizes sports and recreational opportunities.

While at ECU, Merritt was also part of the Student Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy, worked with United Way to compose a grant securing funding for recreation programs, and volunteered with the Special Olympics.

“I was a mediocre undergraduate student so I didn’t know if graduate school was really for me,” Merritt said. “I wasn’t sure I would succeed.”

Fortunately, he was wrong.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Merritt said. “I’m definitely glad I came here.”