September 16, 2013

PARKS AND REC: Logan parks must find balance

By Jeff Smith
Local columnist

---- — Summer may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean the activities involving the Logansport Parks Department are coming to an end.

September includes two events for which the Parks Department is a sponsor or partner. Riverside Park serves as the starting and ending point for the 2 Rivers on 2 Wheels bike tour. The Art on the Avenue event utilizes Little Turtle Waterway and nearby downtown areas. These popular events are made possible by the many volunteers who organize these attractions. While our parks maintenance staff, led by Parks Administrator Janet Fawley, works hard to maintain facilities and grounds, manage their use, and organize programs, their numbers are limited and they can only do so much. The programs and facilities we enjoy would not be possible without the volunteers who donate countless hours to improving the recreational offerings in Logansport and Cass County.

One shining example of volunteerism is the Little Turtle Waterway. This group, which has referred to themselves as the “hard core corps” of volunteers, works quietly to make repairs and improvements to the Little Turtle Waterway area. In fact, the entire Little Turtle project might have never happened without the vision and volunteer efforts of Chairwoman Mercedes Brugh, who just this year was named the statewide volunteer of the year by the Indiana Parks and Recreation Association.

The latest newsletter from the nonprofit Little Turtle Waterway Corp. outlines some recent volunteer efforts. These include the 12 bird houses built and installed by Ralph Sherrill, the planting and maintenance of 25 new trees organized by Jonathan Justice, or the improvements to the terraces west of Third Street organized by Sue Norris, with the help of the Indiana Environmental Health Association. There are many other volunteers who make routine repairs and improvements along the corridor.

Enlisting volunteers or private entities to help maintain park facilities is nothing new. There are citizens who quietly pick up trash or report problems and expect nothing in return. The various athletic leagues who utilize the park facilities have for years been responsible for basic maintenance of the fields on which they play. The West Logan neighborhood group has recently agreed to adopt the upkeep of Memorial Park, which is a small tract of land at the northwest corner of the Market Street Bridge. The “grow, don’t mow” planting of wild flowers and grasses was the result of a Boy Scout project. And two years ago, the park board was prepared to lease the Benjamin Long Center to an area couple for a business venture, but the deal fell through at the final hour.

The opportunity to maintain or acquire park properties is now expanding. The park board and the city administration recognize the need to relinquish some of the lesser-used facilities to private ownership or use, so park maintenance staff can concentrate on the more heavily used parks which draw families and visitors to them. Toward that end, the park board recently considered a resolution which offers 10 properties, including Ben Long Center and Memorial Park, for sponsorship opportunities, or for sale or lease to private parties.

We are excited to add facilities to our park inventory, such as Huston Park, or the Eel River Run trail and the bridge over the Eel River, now being constructed. Both of these great facilities were made possible through grants and corporate or private donations —specifically the Cole, Huston and Penman families, and the Mike Anderson Auto Group. Their generosity has allowed these facilities to be built.

However, the parks department will still be responsible for maintenance, and we must find balance. We cannot continue adding to our facilities without adding maintenance staff or reducing the workload of existing staff. Some of the properties on the relinquishment list are parcels of land that have fallen into the jurisdiction of the Parks Department over the years simply because they had no other good use. It is our hope that we can find good homes for these parcels of land, so that we may concentrate efforts on our primary park properties that not only add quality of life to our citizens, but attract out of town and even out of state visitors.

Just this summer, a family friend visiting us from out of state wanted specifically to go see the Dentzel Carousel at Riverside Park. I’m sure my story is not unique. We want to continue putting our city’s best foot forward with our outstanding park facilities, and to make that happen, we will continue to rely on volunteers who give of their time, energy, or money to make our parks and programs what they are. For your efforts, we offer a sincere “Thank You.” Your efforts are very much appreciated.

Jeff Smith is a school board representative to the Logansport Parks Board.