The city of Waupaca’s Parks and Recreation Department now has a five-year strategic plan.
It is the result of a year-long effort that included the department, the Parks and Recreation Board and a total of 24 community focus groups.
The plan was approved by the Common Council on Oct. 21 and will guide the department from 2015-19.
“The first time I thought about doing this was when I was the recreation coordinator,” said Aaron Jenson, the city’s parks and recreation director.
Roger Holman, Waupaca County’s director of Solid Waste and Recreation Department, mentioned the idea to Jenson.
“I started asking questions,” Jenson said. “It was something the department didn’t have in place.”
With assistance from Waupaca County’s UW-Extension office, the process began in October of 2013.
The Parks and Recreation Department contacted about 30 different community groups, wanting to receive input from a range of organizations.
The department already had a working relationship with some of them and also saw the potential for future collaborations with others.
Jenson said some groups declined to participate in the process.
A total of 20 meetings took place, from October of 2013 to March of 2014.
UW-Extension staff moderated the meetings, with each meeting lasting about 50 minutes.
“What better way to get direction,” Jenson said of the process.
Each group was asked what they want the department to preserve, change and create. The data was then organized, seeing the number of times particular topics were mentioned.
During a retreat, the Parks and Recreation Board reviewed the data and gave the department direction on the topics to address.
Parks and Recreation staff took those recommendations and matched them with the input from groups in the community to score projects and initiatives, placing them in a timeline ranging from 2015 to 2019.
“We told all the groups to dream big, don’t put a ceiling on it,” Jenson said.
Cost and feasibility will need to be worked through in some cases, he said.
“Sometimes, we can get things done with collaborations, partnerships, grant opportunities,” Jenson said. “We got lots of great ideas for individual events or programs.”
When the community groups were asked what they want preserved, the assets mentioned most often were the park system, youth activities, senior center, trail system, adult programs, collaborations/partnerships, beach and presence of lifeguards, upkeep of park system and facilities, recreation center and access to the parks and facilities.
“This was an important piece for the staff and parks board to see,” Jenson said. “People do appreciate the park system.”
Waupaca’s park system totals 239.5 acres and includes 14 city parks. Five of those parks have shelters.
He described the 26-mile River Ridge Trail system as “awesome for a community this size.”
Participation in youth activities offered by the department increased 5.9 percent from 2011 to 2013.
Membership at the senior center grew grew from 279 in 2005 to 527 in 2014.
Mentioned most often during this piece of the conversation were to change the negative perception of the recreation center on weekends, increase promotion of progams and events, address the affordability of youth programs for non-residents and increase winter outdoor activities.
“There was lots of input about more winter activities,” Jenson said.
Already in the planning for this winter is a Winter Rec Fest at Swan Park’s new sled hill.
The biggest change many want to see relates to the perception of the rec center on weekends.
“I think the rec center is a great place for youth,” Jenson said.
On Friday and Saturday nights, it is a safe place for youth.
It is supervised inside the building, and Jenson invites those who do not feel comfortable dropping their children off there to stop by and see for themselves.
The department will soon implement a check-in system on those two nights, making children more accountable and allowing parents to check if their children left the building.
Also being discussed is a mentoring program for youth, with recruitment expected to take place next spring and summer so the program may be in place shortly after the beginning of the 2015-16 school year.
In regard to the affordability issue, Jenson said that issue will be addressed over the winter.
“We want to make it so everyone can participate in youth programs,” he said. “There’s so much positive that comes out of being in an organized activity for youth, from teamwork to accountability. These are things we don’t want people to miss out on.”
A community pool, additions to the River Ridge Trail system and new programs for youth, adults and families were among the topics brought up when community groups were asked what they would like to see the department create.
Every group mentioned the pool, Jenson said.
In this area, the department plans to bring back a game night for families, a program previously sponsored by the Waupaca Breakfast Rotary Club.
He said the department will be able to immediately run with some of the ideas.
“Some will need dollars,” Jenson said. “We will look for partners or grant opportunities.”
Meeting with all the groups was beneficial, he said.
“Obviously, we appreciate everyone that participated, that cares enough for the Parks and Recreation Department to take the time to do that,” Jenson said. “The goal because of their efforts is to see a better and improved park system, increased youth and adult programs and community events.”
He also appreciates the assistance the department received from the UW-Extension office, saying people felt they could answer the questions honestly.
The parks and rec staff and board will review the strategic plan once a year – at a minimum, he said.
Trends and the role of a parks and recreation department are always changing, and the priorities could be different five years from now, Jenson said.
“We do realize that a lot of this will take a lot of effort and a lot of time on the staff’s part,” he said. “Our job as city employees is to be efficient with our time as we possibly can and to use other resources in the community to provide as much as we can in the community to meet the needs outlined in this process. We will be efficient and work with partners as much as possible.”