Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Up, Up and Away: Meet the Park and Recreation Agencies That Are the Driving Force Behind Congress's Lift-Off

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Up, Up and Away: Meet the Park and Recreation Agencies That Are the Driving Force Behind Congress's Lift-Off

Article excerpt

Reno Knows Recreation

Though Nanette Smejkal just arrived in Reno as the new recreation director a few short months ago, she already knows one thing for certain: "Reno is an outdoor recreation mecca."

Coming from Flagstaff, Ariz., Smejkal knows about the endless possibilities the mountainous area holds for recreation and programming. In addition to traditional sports like baseball or soccer, Reno can offer programs like skiing and hiking. According to Smejkal, one of the most successful partnerships is with a local ski area, who helps the agency run the junior learn-to-ski program, which also provides scholarships and lessons to kids who might not otherwise ever hit the slopes.

But what's most important to the department, is offering a good balance of services. Throughout all four seasons, Reno Parks and Recreation provides quality programming and facilities that are unique to the area and community. Not only does the city offer traditional venues such as five swimming pools, multiple community playgrounds and sports fields, council members have looked at how design can impact the usage of an area.

For example, the city just completed the Terraced Sport Park, which will provide more little league baseball and soccer fields.

"The fields stair step down to work with the lay of the land and geography," says Smejkal. The park will be open for Congress attendees to view will in town.

The department also just created Canyon Creek Park, which is literally in a canyon. Patrons park in a lot on a plateau, then walk down to the park in the canyon below. Designers looked at the space Reno had to work with and, according to Smejkal, made "lemonade out of lemons."

But one of the gems of the city has to be the Truckee River Whitewater Park that is located downtown. It provides a kayaking course, as well as a downtown park where locals and tourists call sunbathe, swim or just watch the action.

"The overwhelming patronage of this area has really caught us by surprise," Smejkal says. "Not only are people enjoying the river, but the park is packed with people. It has brought them downtown, which has helped the area undergo a renaissance." (Smejkal warns that during Congress time, the Truckee River is at its lowest point, so she asks participants to use their imagination in envisioning a rapids-filled river.)

Though Reno may have a "lion's share" of facilities and outdoor play areas, the department still faces economic downturns. Smejkal says that for the city's local government, recreation is a priority, but that doesn't mean she hasn't been cleared of making difficult choices. To combat some of the department's economic problems, Reno offered early retirement, which resulted in 11 recreation employees leaving. Although the agency can't fill those positions for another year, eventually it will help save money by paying less for less-seasoned employees.

"It's tough, because Reno is growing, so we just hold the line and look carefully at our finances," Smejkal says. "We're creative and we'll do it. Our elected officials understand the economic connections that good services provide for the community."

Reno is a unique area to host Congress--although they have the facilities to put on a large conference like a larger city, the town has a population of only 200,000. Smejkal thinks this will make a huge difference on how attendees feel while visiting. She says, "People are going to connect, and they are going to feel like they are in their own hometowns. We're a great adventureland."

A Fire For Parks In Sparks

Looking at a 120-foot-deep rock quarry, most people wouldn't think "community centerpiece," but most people don't live in Sparks, Nev. As the Sparks Parks & Recreation department debated with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over whether the abandoned quarry would be able to be filled to create a lake in December 1996, a huge snowfall hit the area. …

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