Even in spite of the current economic status with the lower oil and gas prices, the growth of the Watford City Parks & Recreation Program has only sky-rocketed. Since the beginning of April, the Parks & Recreation Program went from having two full-time staff to now having five full-time staff.
“It was just Robin Arndt and myself,” said Keith Larson, Watford City Parks & Recreation coordinator. “But we’ve expanded to five full-time employees from two since Easter. We now have a Facilities Manager for the new Events Center, an Assistant/Grounds Maintenance employee, and an Assistant Recreation Coordinator – in addition to Robin and myself.”
With five full-time Parks & Recreation employees, the workload has been able to be divided up. Which is good since the recreation department is allowing its programing to meet an ever-increasing city population.
“We do have a lot going on,” said Larson. “We have a lot of plans and hopes. If they can all come true, we will be sitting pretty good.
Just this year, the Parks & Recreation Program has added several new programs including: Learning to Fish, Gracie Combatives (a Jiu-Jitsu training), Adult Outdoor Soccer, Cheerleading (for children age four through 6th grade). In addition, it took over the Missoula Children’s Theatre, (which was not new to the area, but to the Park District).
The Parks & Recreation Program had also started an Adult Indoor Soccer team this past winter and is going into its second year of offering Flag Football to not only third and fourth-graders, but also to first and second-graders as well.
According to Larson, programs that have seen the most growth in the last three years include soccer, the Cal-Ripken baseball program, and men’s adult softball.
“Soccer has obviously seen the biggest increase in the last three years,” stated Larson. “The first year, we had 88 kids. The second year it grew to 125 kids. And this year, we had 220 kids register for soccer. I was expecting 150, maybe 175 kids, to register for soccer this year, but by the last week of registration, they were just flowing in here – like holy smokes!”
The soccer program went from having about 15 to 20 teams last year to 26 teams this year, with 27 coaches. Six of the 26 teams are pre-K and are under the direction of Bambi Shelley and her six assistants. This is also the first year Shelley has had assistants who aren’t members of her own family.
In addition to the soccer program, the Cal-Ripken baseball program has expanded as well.
“This year, we started the Cal-Ripken baseball program earlier,” said Larson. “And we’re looking at splitting into three or four teams as opposed to only having one team. Last year, we had one team with approximately 30 kids and it wasn’t working well. This year, we already have 36 kids. A couple of these teams can travel to Williston to play and a couple will just stay here and play games against each other.”
In the past, the Cal-Ripken baseball program didn’t start until the first part of June. The program started earlier this year for the purpose of getting into Williston’s league, which will allow the players to have more games to play. Games will start at the end of May and go through the end of July, with the in-town teams playing against each other.
“We played between six and eight games last year with Williston,” said Larson. “We could get up to 15 games this year, playing with the regular Williston league and then playing the ‘All Star’ teams.”
Not only have the soccer and the Cal-Ripken baseball programs heightened in popularity, the adult softball program has too. Currently, there are only men’s softball teams and women’s softball teams. There are no co-ed teams. And as the women’s softball has steadily stayed around five teams over the last three years, the men’s softball teams have steadily increased.
“The first year I took over, we maybe had six teams,” remembered Larson. “Last year we had nine teams, and this year we are looking at 12 or 13 teams. And a team can have anywhere between 12 and 20 players.”
In addition to Parks & Recreation adding new programs and activities over the last year, they’ve just recently took over scheduling of the Veterans Building as well. City Hall used to have the task of scheduling and will still do some of it, but Parks & Recreation will hold the main responsibility of the scheduling.
“I think the city wanted to have more of a presence in the building because right now, there is no security – with no one monitoring,” said Larson. “Now, we do a walk-through a couple times a day and the building closes at 5 p.m., unless it’s reserved after hours, in which case, the reserver has to get a key and they are responsible. We’ll still work very closely with City Hall, but Parks & Recreation will do the maintenance and janitorial work for the gym. The city still has custodial duties for the bathrooms.”
With the growth of so many programs, activities, and events, space at the Veterans Building is getting booked up fairly fast, so people who want to book the gym or the Civic Center areas, should get their requests in soon. According to Larson, the Veterans Building is a ‘very heavily-utilized building.’
The Parks & Recreation Program is also in the process of creating a financial scholarship, although major details of this project still have yet to be determined and finalized. They have also hired recreational staff for the summer programs and activities.
“We have a really great staff coming this summer,” stated Larson. “In the past, we’ve hired two or three people to help out. This year, we’ve hired five, but a couple are involved in other activities as well. Two of the five will be our main full-time people. They are all great assets to our summer programs and activities.”
Some of the other projects the Watford City Parks and Recreation is working on include an addition to the current skate park, which will enhance what is already there and give the skaters more obstacles. An in-line skate rink will be put down on the elementary school grounds. A splash pad is currently being built next to the swimming pool and will hopefully be done when the pool opens for the summer.
“We are also adding a fourth session of swimming lessons,” said Larson. “In the past, there’s just been three sessions, but due to the growth of the little munchkins, we’re going to be adding a fourth session.”
The Park Board is still currently working on plans for a future softball complex with an attached green space (for football and soccer practices) and hopefully, a small playground. According to Larson, it’s a plan being pursued and will hopefully be playable by next year.
The biggest project, however, slated to be finished sometime next year is the highly-anticipated Events Center, which will boast two sheets of ice, an area big enough to lay down three basketball courts or turf for soccer and/or football practices/games, a main arena, an area for gymnastics, a leisure pool with slides, along with a six-lane lap pool, and a convention/banquet area.
“Now our job is to fill the Events Center up with all of those sports and activities,” said Larson. “It will give everybody the opportunity to do things there. It’s good that we’ve taken over the scheduling of the Veterans Building because it will help prepare our staff with what to do for the new Events Center. Having the new Events Center will be such a huge benefit and asset to our community.”