District Receives National Honor for Parks and Recreation Excellence
Willamalane Park and Recreation District received the 2016 National Gold Medal award on Thursday, designating it as the top park agency in the country for communities of similar size. The prestigious award was presented by the National Park and Recreation Association at its annual conference this week in St. Louis, Mo.
The award is the highest honor given out by NRPA and recognizes agencies that demonstrate excellence in long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development and agency recognition.
“This is a proud moment for Willamalane, the staff, our volunteers and for Springfield,” said Willamalane Superintendent Bob Keefer. “I can’t think of a more deserving community. The people of Springfield have supported this district every step of the way.”
A recent example of that support, he said, was the successful passage of a $20 million bond measure in 2012 to improve and create new parks, playgrounds, trails and natural areas.
“That bond measure was a catalyst for taking this district to another level of excellence and answering the community’s needs for expanded resources and services,” said Keefer.
Because of the public’s support, Willamalane has been able to deliver a level of park and recreation services rarely found in a community this size, he said.
Willamalane maintains and operates five recreation facilities and 45 parks and natural areas totaling nearly 1,500 acres. Additionally, there are 13 waterfront areas, 25 miles of hiking and biking trails, 17 sports fields and 25 playgrounds. Willamalane also offers over 500 programs to people of all ages and abilities.
Agencies were also judged by the many challenges they face and how they are leveraging resources to meet those challenges.
This is another area where the district has excelled, said Willamalane Board President Greg James.
“Time and again Willamalane has been able to accomplish far-reaching goals because of the teamwork and collaborative relationships developed with partner agencies,” he said.
James cited the Middle Fork Path, which received $5 million in federal grants, and the acquisition of 700 acres in the Thurston Hills as two examples of multiple agencies combining resources to complete complex projects.
Willamalane was one of four finalists in the Class IV Category, with a population of 30,001-75,000 residents. The other Class IV finalists included Bismarck Parks and Recreation District, Bismarck, N.D.; Decatur Park District, Decatur, Ill.; and Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation, Olympia, Wash.
A panel of five park and recreation professionals reviewed and judged all application materials.
On its application, Willamalane highlighted faithful fulfillment of bond projects, positive economic impact on the community, leadership in water safety and youth wellness, and citizen involvement in volunteering and decision-making.
Willamalane was a Gold Medal finalist in 2014 and won the Gold Medal in 1986.