October 2, 2014

Elyria
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Park mission: Bring families together

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is on a mission to bring families closer together.

In the past few years, the department has reinvented itself within North Ridgeville, and the brainchild behind many of the family oriented events is Missy Williams, programming supervisor for the city.

A real treat
A Halloween party will be 3 p.m. to dark Oct. 20 in South Central Park.
The family oriented day will be filled with games, crafts, a pumpkin patch, applesauce making and a story/craft by the branch library.
There will be a Halloween maze 5 to 7 p.m. along the quarter-mile walking trail. A child-friendly walk area for younger children also will be available.

Parks and Recreation Director Jim Spaulding remembers when he interviewed Williams for the job three years ago. He saw a woman with a flair for life and who was not soft-spoken about what she wanted to see accomplished.

Born and raised in North Ridgeville, Williams has a degree in exercise science and fitness management from Baldwin-Wallace College and has never been quiet about what she wants.

“She wanted to put an emphasis on special events, and that is what I liked,” Spaulding said.

A few of the newer special events are the Parties in the Park; Tot Trick or Treating, where children ages 2 to 5 parade in costumes through the city departments collecting treats as they go; and a baseball opening day at Shady Drive Sports Complex. The Splash Pad opened at South Central Park in August.

“More money is available now to make improvements,” Spaulding said. “We need our families to socialize, and we want to provide a place where they can interact.”

Since joining the Parks and Recreation Department staff, Williams has learned there are a lot of younger families moving in and a need for family events.

“We are still a community as opposed to a larger city — you see people you know everywhere. The Parks and Recreation Department is involved in the community,” Williams said.

And Williams said she believes the more activities the parks provide for children, the less likely youth are to get into trouble with either their parents or law enforcement officials.

In fact, South Central Park was the place to be Sept. 22 as teens from as far away as Mansfield came  for the first “Rockin’ the Ridge Youth Music Festival.” The concert idea stemmed from Williams and North Ridgeville resident Ken Hamker.

And if the North Ridgeville Parks and Recreation Department has its way, this event will be one of many bringing families to the parks.

When parents arrived to help their teenagers set up equipment for the concert, many of them had the same reaction — it was a nice, safe venue where they knew their children would perform in.

Brian Gibson, of Brook Park, said he was thrilled to see his son’s band, Back for More, play.

“It was kind of a neat and nice thing to get local talent at a place for the kids to play,” Gibson said.

This event was the first of its kind to bring out teenagers to the park, as many of the events pertain to younger children.

However, it is Spaulding’s hope that more events focus on teenagers, but as he said, “It’s simple to say and hard to do.”

With Williams on board, the nearly impossible might be possible in the near future.

Williams said she hears comments from residents of all ages on what they would like to see in the North Ridgeville parks. One of the items teenagers request most often is a skate park.

“I’d like to see something for the older kids, since the younger kids have more amenities,” Williams said.

As for Spaulding, he is hoping the city-owned 17 acres off Bainbridge Road will be used for recreation purposes.

The land has been owned by the city since 1965, and so far, it’s still vacant.

To date, the issue to have a city recreation center has been brought before to North Ridgeville voters three times, and all three times has been voted down.

“I see a vital need for an outdoor pool and then a recreation center,” he said. “But it’s hard to ask for tax money, so we are trying to do the things to improve the parks without asking for money.”