(by Whitney Wilson Coy, Westside Editor - March 20, 2009)
Recent cuts to the city’s budget have shut the doors to 11 Columbus area recreation centers, leaving patrons of those facilities to flock to neighboring centers. What many don’t realize, however, is that the parks and recreation centers that managed to remain standing, did not do so unscathed.
Additional cuts to the department have lessened available resources and shortened staff, meaning the city’s parks and 19 remaining recreation centers must struggle to make ends meet and to provide quality services to those who utilize them.
Since the city is not able to make that happen on their own, other groups and organizations must step up to the plate and help out.
On the Westside, one such group is the Friends of Westgate Park (FOWP).
FOWP is a group of Westside residents who work under the umbrella of Friends of the Hilltop to help beautify and enhance the park. They work closely with Columbus Parks and Recreation and the Westgate Community Recreation Council.
According to FOWP President Lisa Grazier, some of the additional cuts include a reduction in mowing at city parks from every 16 days to every 21 days, along with the elimination of trim work.
These are both chores that, according to Grazier, the city will not let volunteers handle.
“You can actually be fined,” she said, citing liability reasons.
“The park may look shaggier,” she added. “We can’t mow, we can’t trim.”
There are areas, however, where the group can help pick up the slack.
Trash pickup to the parks has also been scaled back, from two times each week to only once.
“Before, if you picked up trash around the park or changed the bags in the trash cans, you had to take it home with you and throw it away,” said Grazier, explaining that the city has never let the large trash receptacles on the park property be utilized by the public.
“We may work something out where they let us use their Dumpsters.” she said.
The group plans to expand their usual schedule of cleanups and plantings this spring and summer in an effort to compensate.
Normally meeting several Sundays throughout the warmer seasons for regular plantings, mulchings and small cleanups, Grazier says the group will probably add several extra plantings and “quick pick up events” to their already full schedule.
“What it’s going to call for is the commitment of the community to really rally around the park,” said Grazier.
“We are working on finding solutions to the problems the cuts have caused, but one thing that I will not allow is complaining. Complaining will get us nowhere,” she added.
Another big blow to the group is the loss of Assistant Director Mark Young with the Parks and Recreation department.
Young, who was laid off as a part of the budget cuts, was the groups main contact with the city, and often times, their biggest supporter.
“It’s a devastating blow to Friends,” said Grazier.
Grazier is confident, however, that the group will continue to have a solid working relationship with the city.
Grazier, along with FOWP Vice President Sue Laughlin, have had meetings with Recreation and Parks Director Alan McKnight, along with councilwoman Priscilla Tyson. Both have assured the group that they are committed to working with FOWP to ensure that the park gets what it needs.
“Everyone has been really great about working with us,” said Grazier. “we stand behind Columbus Recreation and Parks.”
FOWP is looking for extra hands to help with their extra workload.
Anyone interested in helping with a cleanup or joining FOWP should contact Lisa Grazier at email@example.com or 274-4382, or Sue Laughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 278-9350.
“It’s a great way for local groups to get involved and for groups like the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts to earn their badges,” said Grazier, adding that helping out with a FOWP event also qualifies as community hours for high school students.
FOWP have no membership fees, and 100 percent of all donations go back into the park.
I have grown up near Westgate Park all of my life having played many years of football and adult softball. I love this park. I know travel from Grove City to attend events and functions there.
So to clarify, we will have a new park at City Center at a cost of $115,000, 000, and a railcar system that few ride at a cost of $300,000,00 plus. I can't be the only one who sees this as a poor direction by our administration.