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McDonald starts Richmond County GIS project

This map shows a potential park at Richmond Community College proposed by Chris McDonald.
Contributed image

ROCKINGHAM — In the winter of 2018, while updating his North Carolina Breweries map, Richmond County native and Associate Planner for the City of Charlotte Chris McDonald got the idea to start the Facebook page Small Town GIS, thinking it would give him a location to populate all the random projects he’d been working on in the past and what he’ll be working on in the future.

GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems, which, according to McDonald, boils down to the framework that helps to gather, manage and analyze any type of data.

“Anything from flat surface maps (what you can see on my social media page) and 3-D scenes of certain areas,” he said.

McDonald wanted to get the public’s opinions on certain projects and ideas for the county that, in his opinion, are not brought up very often.

“It can be easy to see people’s individual posts on social media about what they want, or what needs to happen for this county to be successful, but I haven’t seen anyone take the results from the public and analyze what they want,” said McDonald. “Being able to compare our economy and a breakdown of our businesses and roadways with other areas to show the public the comparison is my goal.”

The N.C. State alum is trying to help provide a reason for a public discussion. He believes that by mapping out projects like local parks, new bypasses or simply just the surveys, it will help give Richmond County residents something to talk about and provide their opinion on.

“The more analysis I’m able to do, then the more I can provide in the future with spearheading the beginning of projects the community may want to see,” he said. “Beyond that, there has not been much other services provided other than personal maps I found to be interesting. I would like to incorporate more private and individual projects in the future.”

One of those projects is potentially bringing a brewery to the county, even though he admits it probably won’t be anytime soon.

“There’s a lot of money and planning that goes into a brewery or taproom, so it’s tough to try and get that ball rolling soon with other high-priority things I want to accomplish first before I can worry about that,” he said. “Most breweries take years of planning even with the right financials, but I want to make it happen ASAP.” 

If not a brewery, then a taproom that usually highlights 10 or more beers from around the region without the hassle of brewing it himself, he went on to say. McDonald has started home-brewing, and said he’ll see where that takes him for now.


Another past project that McDonald has highlighted on his Facebook page was the potential for a recreation complex in Rockingham that ultimately got voted down. He said it all came down to how advertised the project was.

“Growing up, I heard about it because my family knew about it, but if you go back in the archives of past news feeds, there is no information to be found,” he said. “The original maps and park renderings can be found on the City of Rockingham’s website for anyone to look at.

“If this project would have been displayed more in the public and posted on social media streams and in the newspapers then I believe it would have passed, ’cause the biggest issue was the projected tax increase in the county.”

McDonald said people “freaked out,” even with a tax increase of only 0.25%, causing voters to strike it down.

“I don’t think there was an understanding that this park is not even in the city limits of Rockingham and all tax revenue would go to the entire county and not the individual City of Rockingham, if my knowledge serves me correct,” he said. “Once again, there was a lack of advertisement in this situation for sure.”

However, there are some parks within the county that McDonald thinks could be either improved upon or built from scratch that would help the beautification: Roberdel Lake Park and Camping Area; a splash park by Harrington Square in downtown Rockingham; Richmond Community College Park; Great Falls Mill Historic Park; and Ed Tull Park off Broad Avenue.

He’s presented all of them either in surveys or with maps on his Small Town GIS page.

“These parks are what will boost the appeal and drive of the community but are not on the radar to get started soon,” he said. “All are phenomenal ideas that don’t have any local funding due to other large projects. Our communities’ best hope is that our city and county apply for as many grants as they can. There’s plenty of grants out there to benefit the natural habitat of rural areas. And for us in Richmond County, we desperately need it to spruce up our look.

“The better our communities and streets look to potential companies, then the better chance we have to bring those companies in to create their new home. It starts with our parks and green spaces, and now is the time to get started.”

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