Do you perceive our local parks and recreation offerings as an essential service in Lawrence?
If you have any doubts about the benefits our community enjoys and the impact parks and recreation has on our citizens of all ages, try and imagine Lawrence without its nearly 3,500 acres of parks, its 60 miles of hiking and biking trails or its beautiful and educational nature centers.
Remove, for the sake of argument, our popular indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities. Visualize life in Lawrence without the combined 111 public baseball, soccer, softball, football fields, tennis, volleyball and outdoor basketball courts. Consider, if you will, the impact of no Lawrence Parks and Recreation youth and adult leagues of competition that use these facilities.
Perhaps, you are not someone who would feel a void in your lifestyle with the elimination of miles of green space and adult or youth sports facilities.
Let me suggest you ponder the overall appeal of our community to families considering Lawrence as a place to live if we didn't have the 1,750 different recreational programs for all ages offered by the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department each year? Estimated participation in those programs on a yearly basis is in the range of 700,000 to 800,000.
Even if you or your family are not touched by the services offered by LPRD, I would encourage you to consider the importance these programs and facilities play in helping make a difference in the lives of many of our citizens.
The meaningful benefits from an active parks and recreation agency in any community are easy to take for granted. In a time when significant public issues such as obesity or deviant behavior in our youth are grabbing headlines, it's important to realize that parks and recreation can be an important part of the solution.
These programs and facilities are vital in promoting healthier minds and bodies, teaching significant life skills, protecting the environment, providing accessible places to enjoy nature and safe fields for youth and adults to play. They foster stronger family bonds, reduce crime, violence and substance abuse among our youth.
Beyond the school system in Kansas, our state's park and recreation agencies impact more children than any other agency. The ballfields, pools, recreation centers and playgrounds provide common ground for families to create memories that last a lifetime.
The recreation centers also host intergenerational programs that keep our elder population active, and offer interaction between our senior citizens and future generations.
I've had the good fortune to travel across Kansas and visit many of our local park and recreation agencies in communities of all sizes. I've seen first-hand the positive impact they are making in the lives of the millions of active participants.
The residents of Lawrence and Douglas County should take pride in the parks and recreation opportunities they have available and feel fortunate that LPRD has been guided since 1975 by Fred DeVictor, who will retire as director in mid March. Fred is highly respected across the state by park and recreation professionals for his leadership and vision.
As one of his last initiatives to make Lawrence a more viable and livable community, Fred has joined with Bonnie Lowe in leading a joint feasibility study between the city, county, chamber of commerce and school district that is designed to examine our community's athletic facility and programs needs.
The feasibility study, which is under the direction of PLAY (Partners for Lawrence Athletics and Youth), will essentially determine the long-term solutions necessary and level of financial commitment needed to upgrade the athletic facilities in Lawrence.
The athletic facilities in question under the PLAY feasibility study are those that allow opportunities for many of our younger generation of citizens to realize the benefits of healthier minds and bodies, increased self-esteem and increased community pride.
Suffice it to say, this collective citizen effort is focused on elevating Lawrence into a better community and offering a standard of living that meets the needs of both young and old. It's clear that while Lawrence has community leadership committed to offering our youth a full menu of athletic opportunities, we lack the basic facilities to fulfill this goal.
This is not to say that we have many serious needs in our community that also deserve funding consideration. But let us not overlook the importance of athletic facilities and recreational programs and the positive impact they have on our youth, adults and senior citizens.
Let there be no question that parks and recreation do qualify as an essential service in our community.
- Doug Vance is executive director of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association and a Lawrence resident.