By: Brittani Holsey

The Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation Department plans on using results from a new survey to help improve city parks and increase citizen involvement during a time of tight budgets.

The department has developed a five-year master plan to renovate the parks but, according to Sean Fletcher, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, the department has undergone a transformation since 2012.

“We have gone from 14-full time employees to about 4 ½,” Fletcher said. “The lack of tax revenue has hit us as much everyone and we definitely have to focus on the large parks before our smaller neighborhood ones, so we must utilize our volunteers.”

The Parks and Recreation Department this year hired a firm to conduct a $19,000 community needs assessment. The assessment results, which were presented to commissioners this month, found that out of the 81 percent of residents who use city parks, 18 percent believe that the condition of the facilities is “fair” or “poor.”

“These findings will not sit on a bookshelf, the city staff will use this to make changes,” said Fletcher at an October city commission meeting.

With the drastic cuts in staffing in recent years, the department is looking for citizen involvement.

“Volunteers have always been important, we have had steady volunteers over the past ten years and they are going to become more important [over time] as we have less help,” said Mark Polega, the parks manager. “Having volunteers doesn’t always mean something because we don’t have a lot of help to manage them.”

Sheryl Lloyd, local mom and frequent park visitor notices the efforts made. “The parks look nice, they are usually pretty clean and you can see evidence of volunteer helpers,” Lloyd said. “The grounds seem clean but some things, like the bathrooms, need more attention.”

Numerous volunteer programs take place year round from trash pick-up to decorating the parks. “We just had a volunteer day to paint picnic tables,” Fletcher said.

Groups like Kalamazoo in Bloom help keep the parks clean and volunteer their time to keep the community spaces beautiful. “People have specific likes when they volunteer, so I am working on how to organize volunteer efforts,” Polega said, “Whether it’s two whole weekends a year or just a day, but has to be organized.”

In addition to the increased volunteer efforts, within the five-year plan for Kalamazoo City Parks and Recreation Department is scheduled renovation of all the large parks and many of the neighborhood parks. This includes adding many community outreach events and gaining more citizen participation.

“I would definitely attend more parks if they offered more activities,” Lloyd said. “If they had yoga classes or something that would be great.”

To get involved in volunteering or for other information visit: www.kalamazoocity.org/departments/parks-and-recreation.

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