Homegrown Fun

Article excerpt

Byline: Adeline Bash The Register-Guard

Kayla Davis has never been on a family vacation.

"Vacations just aren't really something we go on," the 13-year-old said.

Instead, the Spencer Butte Middle School eighth-grader has - for as long as she can remember - gone to city of Eugene-sponsored day camps during summer vacation and school holidays. This week's spring break was no different.

An expensive family vacation was out of the question, said Melanie Davis, Kayla's mother. She could not afford to take the week off from her job at the Family and Health Careers center at Lane Community College, especially with her husband having just returned to work after a 21/2-year hiatus.

So, Kayla spent the week with other middle schoolers learning the ins and outs of camp counseling in the city recreation division's "Counselor-In-Training" spring break camp at the Amazon Community Center.

The camp cost $135, and the 24 middle school students who attended were the most the camp's ever had, said director Gina Tafoya, who was expecting about half that number.

Other camps Tafoya helps organize, including a Wayne Morse Farm Camp and Amazon Art Camp, also have been increasingly popular in recent years, Tafoya said.

But the trend is not exclusive to day camps, according to local recreation services representatives.

Over the past three years, the recession has led to an increase in demand for most of the relatively low-cost recreation programs offered across Lane County, representatives say.

"Community centers become very important when we have a recession," said Dale Weigandt, superintendent for the River Road Park and Recreation District, which serves River Road and Santa Clara residents in northwest Eugene.

Weigandt has been with the district for nearly 39 years and said he has seen the ebbs and flows in the demand for recreation programs. High gas prices and high unemployment rates, he said, are often a good indicator that recreation centers' popularity will peak.

"Everybody stays home," he said. "They utilize what's in their community."

Because the River Road district does not have computerized registration, there are no hard figures on enrollment gains. But Weigandt estimates program participation is up 25 percent since the recession peaked in 2009.

In Eugene, recreation division spokesman Craig Smith said participation in rec programs climbed 18 percent between 2008 and 2011, rising from 656,000 to 773,000 total participants.

The amount of money devoted to scholarships and price reductions to low-income residents has also seen a substantial increase, Smith said.

In 2008, the division awarded $73,000 in scholarships. That climbed by nearly 85 percent last year to a total of $135,000 - the highest amount the scholarship program has ever awarded, Smith said. Funding for the scholarship programs comes from the division's general fund and community donations.

Springfield's Willamalane Park and Recreation District has seen similar gains, according to Superintendent Bob Keefer. …