Parks programs slip slidin’ away?

Figuring out whether South Whidbey residents want to play basketball, join an art class or take a rafting trip is a challenge for South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District staff.

Each year the district offers a variety of team sports for all ages, as well as camps, day trips and classes.

Reading the public’s mind as to what will sell falls on the shoulders of recreation coordinator Dave Hall.

He said that this year, it has been a challenge to determine what people are want to do at the park. He told as much to the park district’s board of directors earlier this month.

“Participation is down across the board,” Hall said.

Hall believes a factor is enrollment in South Whidbey schools, which is down.

The big winner in terms of bringing program money into the district — as it is every year — was last week’s Whidbey Island Triathlon. Hall said the district expects to earn about $10,000 from the triathlon. Money earned above expenses goes to fund other programs in the district.

One of the worst-case scenarios happens when there aren’t enough sign-ups to operate a promised program or camp. That was the case with this year’s Skykomish River white water raft trip and for a clay sculpting class.

To generate interest in parks programs, Hall says it’s just a matter of leaving a program out for a year or two and then offering it again. A program that drew well for six years, until this year, was a week-long mountain biking camp. Though it appealed to young riders, it essentially fell victim to age.

“We discovered the same group of kids had been participating and they got older and moved on to other activities,” Hall said.

One new program that was an immediate success this summer was a day-long water ski camp put on by parks board president Curt Gordon and Hall.

“We hope to expand it next year,” Hall said.

Hall, who has been with the district since July 2003, also hopes to increase the number of teen programs next year. For example, this year’s Easter egg hunt, done by flashlight in the park, drew 80 teens. A Halloween egg — with all black and orange eggs — is on tap for later this year.

Interim parks director Lee McFarland said despite low turnout for some parks activities, he expects that income from programs will balance the budgeted $134,600 going out.

Upcoming fall programs include basketball leagues, a Punt, Pass and Kick challenge, Children’s Day on Sept. 25, and the 5-kilometer Chum Run on Sept. 18.

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