State of Recreation

MARIETTA – A big plus for Marietta is the availability of recreational facilities, but it takes a lot to keep the city’s pool, ball fields, playgrounds and basketball and tennis courts in good repair.

“For a city of its size, Marietta has a good variety of parks with a good variety of available activities,” said Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, who chairs the city’s lands, buildings and parks committee for Marietta City Council.

“I think our recreational facilities are in OK shape,” he added. “But perhaps they could use some more maintenance.”

Noland was among several members of the city’s recreation commission who toured some of the city parks earlier this month.

He said funding is always an issue when it comes to maintaining the recreational areas, and the city does not maintain a budget specifically for maintenance of courts, playgrounds and other facilities.

“We really have no money to set aside,” Noland said. “That’s why we rely so much on volunteers and grant funding to help with maintaining and improving these areas.”

Although records and receipts are kept on individual parks projects, the city does not break down how much money is spent annually in each of the municipal parks with recreational facilities. Those parks include Buckeye Park, Indian Acres Park, Jackson Hill Park, Lookout Park and Flanders Field.

Other recreation areas, not particularly affiliated with a park, include the Marietta Aquatic Center and the city’s River Trail pedestrian and bicycle path.

“Some parks require a lot more money than others, simply because there’s more equipment to maintain,” Noland said. “The aquatic center, for example, requires much more maintenance than other recreational facilities.”

Longtime recreation commission member Connie Grimes said she’s seeing some improvement in the city’s facilities.

“It seems like the city has not put enough emphasis on its recreation facilities in the past, which is kind of sad, but I think they’ve been doing a lot better in the last two or three years,” she said.

As an advisory group, the recreation commission helps keep tabs on the city’s recreation areas and makes recommendations to the administration and city council about needs for those facilities. But there is no city employee responsible for regular checks and maintenance of recreation facilities.

“We need someone to keep an eye on things, but it would require a full-time employee to make sure everything is maintained and kept up,” said Susan Joyce, the city’s recreation clerk.

She said the city lands, buildings and parks crew, which takes care of all of the city’s park areas, watches for maintenance issues on playgrounds, ball courts and other recreational facilities.

There are currently four full-time employees and three seasonal workers (29 hours a week or less in summer months) on the lands, buildings and parks crew, according to facilities foreman Tanner Huffman.

“They take care of the parks and recreation facilities, but are also responsible for city building maintenance and the city cemeteries,” he said. “Oak Grove Cemetery alone is 60 acres that has to be mowed and maintained. In the fall and winter we do leaf pickup and snow removal, too. These are the greatest guys, and they work hard.”

Although the city seems to add more recreational facilities often, the number of workers to maintain those facilities hasn’t changed.

“In the past we had more workers to help with the maintenance of our recreation areas, now we’ve added more facilities, but there are fewer people to keep them maintained,” Joyce said. “We also rely on the general public a lot to keep us informed about any problems in the parks and other recreational areas.”

For example, members of the Marietta Area Community Tennis Association (MACTA) recently told city council that the tennis courts at Lookout Park were in need of repairs as cracks were forming in the court surface due to poor drainage of the area.

City council has approved $11,000 for the drainage work, and another $26,131 will go for resurfacing of the damaged areas of the court.

Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, who chairs council’s finance committee, said the $26,131 for resurfacing came from an unexpected boost to the general fund from some previous years’ inheritance tax revenue. Although the inheritance tax ended in 2013, the city has continued to receive some residual monies that were paid during years when the tax was still in effect.

MACTA president Steve Ellis said the group appreciates the city’s support for the Lookout Park tennis courts, and noted association members often pitch in to help keep those facilities maintained.

“We feel we have to contribute and help take care of the courts out of necessity,” he said.

But Ellis noted some other communities, including the city of Athens, have a recreation levy that provides funding for their recreational facilities.

“I don’t know if that would be a good solution for Marietta, but Athens has some beautiful facilities,” he said. “If (Marietta) does not have the manpower and financial resources to maintain its facilities, it may be an answer. A lot depends on how the local community values its recreational areas.”

Marietta native Earl Gutberlet and his wife, Linda, took their children to the playground at Buckeye Park on a recent afternoon.

Linda gestured toward the park’s archery range.

“We’re bow hunters and really like the idea of having a public archery range,” she said. “I think it would also encourage young people to become involved with archery.”

“And it seems like the park is well kept,” Earl added said.

Asked what he thought about a recreation levy to support such facilities, Earl said it could be a possibility.

“It could be a good idea, but only if people have the option to vote on it,” he said. “It should be left up to the people.”

Terry Dearth, who lives across Fearing Street from Flanders Field in the Harmar area, said upgrades at the park, including the new baseball field facilities installed by the Little Sluggers Baseball League, have improved use of the park.

“They did a good job, but I think the city should install some security cameras, even for a short time, to discourage vandalism of the new facilities,” he said. “And the city police need to patrol this area more often.”

But Dearth wasn’t sold on the idea of a recreation levy.

“It might be a good idea and if I had better income I would probably support it, but we’re on a fixed income, like a lot of people, and couldn’t afford it now,” he said.

The city does have a recreation fund into which revenues from the Marietta Aquatic Center, softball field fees and rental of picnic shelters and other facilities are deposited.

“Any recreation-related revenues go in there, and as of June 30 there was $37,362.37 in that fund,” Vukovic said, but noted the recreation fund fluctuates throughout the year, and usually has to be subsidized out of the city’s general fund.

“We basically use the recreation fund to pay the salaries for employees who work on the parks and recreation areas,” he said, adding that revenue from the aquatic center is the main source of income for the fund.

“We have to keep the pool in good shape because it’s the main driver for the recreation fund,” Vukovic said.

Joyce noted that revenue is dependant on good weather and attendance during the summer season.

“Last year was not a good year for the pool due to weather conditions,” she said. “But in a good year we can usually take in more than $100,000 for the recreation fund.”

Vukovic said funding for repairs and maintenance on recreation facilities has to come out of the general fund, capital fund or from grant sources when they’re available.

The city has no plan in place for regular maintenance and upkeep of the recreational areas, and there is no device in place to make sure spending is done equally on all facilities.

“Repairs are basically done on a case-by-case basis,” said city Safety-Service Director Jonathan Hupp. “If our guys see the need for a repair they may contact engineering or another department about the work that has to be done.”

But Joyce said a forward-looking plan should be put in place to address maintenance and repair issues on recreational facilities before they become major problems.

“I think we’re doing a little better in trying to stay ahead of the problems instead of just putting out the fires as they come up,” she said.

Missy Richman of Parkersburg bikes about 200 miles a month on Marietta’s River Trail with her family. She and her children were hitting a few balls on the Indian Acres Park tennis courts this week.

“I think Marietta’s facilities are beautiful. I love it,” she said. “But I am surprised that there isn’t a plan to maintain these areas, although most seem to be in pretty good condition. People should probably contact the city council about developing a plan.”

Marietta resident Sam Biehl said he has no problem with the current plan of fixing problems in recreational areas as they crop up.

“As long as the facilities are being kept up, I don’t think we need to add any more bureaucracy to take care of them,” he said. “We don’t need to pay someone another $50,000 or so to keep an eye on these areas.”

Joyce and Hupp said local businesses and organizations often step up to provide help with maintenance and upgrades in city parks.

“For example, the Marietta Softball Association takes care of the softball fields at Indian Acres and Buckeye parks, and the Little Sluggers baseball association has done a wonderful job of upgrading the facilities at Flanders Field,” Joyce said.

Another group, the Marietta Kiwanis Club, has built a picnic shelter at West Muskingum Park, and is contributing $3,500 to help the city build another pavilion at Flanders Field.

Hupp said other organizations have adopted sections of the city’s River Trail for maintenance and litter control.

“We can always use more help. And if any local organization would like to participate they can contact the city development department,” he said.

“Buckeye is in pretty good shape, although it does need permanent restrooms,” Joyce said, noting the park currently has portable toilets available near the picnic area and ball fields.

The park has had restrooms in the past, but they became deteriorated and had to be closed. Past city councils have looked into building new restroom facilities there, but it would be a costly effort because the area is located within the flood plain and would require special construction.

Estimates obtained by the city in 2009 for a public restroom at Buckeye Park ranged from nearly $100,000 to $150,000.

Joyce said permanent restrooms have been renovated at Indian Acres and Lookout Park, but the facilities don’t remain open long due to repeated vandalism.

Huffman said crews will do $300 to $400 worth of work to repair vandalism damage only to have someone repeat the damage within a few days.