Representatives of the Maine Recreation and Parks Association (Board President Steve Balboni and Vice President Tracy Willette, the two men at far left) speak to Ellsworth city officials at an Aug. 24 meeting at City Hall. Listening (from left) are City Councilors John Moore, Steve Beathem, Marc Blanchette, Dawn Hudson, John Phillips and Bob Crosthwaite. Seated with his back to the camera is Recreation Commission Chairman Uriah Hon. PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER

City weighs a parks & rec department

ELLSWORTH — Does the city need its own parks and recreation department?

With a growing population and an increasing number of public recreational properties, the feeling at City Hall is that the idea at the very least needs to be seriously considered and explored.

To that end, members of the City Council and the Recreation Commission held a joint workshop Aug. 24. They met with representatives from the Maine Recreation and Parks Association (MRPA) for pointers on how to go about setting up a municipal department if Ellsworth chooses to go that route.

Council Chairman John Phillips, in a memo to his colleagues and Recreation Commission members, called the workshop “an important step into the future as we try and determine the best approach to manage and use the many different recreational areas” in the city.

A list provided by City Hall shows five parks owned by the city (Knowlton, Harbor, S.K. Whiting, Donald A. Little and Merrill parks) as well as the rail and bike trail that parallels State Street, the Riverfront Trail behind the Ellsworth Public Library and trails at the Branch Lake Public Forest off of the Bangor Road. The DeMeyer and Wilson athletic fields are also owned by the city.

“The demand on our facilities has increased and the need to properly manage them has become a full-time job,” Phillips wrote. Knowlton Park, in particular, has seen growing use since it opened two years ago.

He and others noted that at present, a variety of city staff members take responsibility for maintaining and scheduling events at these facilities. While the approach has largely worked so far, everyone seemed to agree it was not the most efficient long-term approach.

Tracy Willette, director of Bangor’s Parks and Recreation Department, is vice president of MRPA and was at the Aug. 24 meeting. He said Ellsworth is “at the point right now where you need to have this discussion” about how to manage parks and recreation.

City Manager David Cole said the city needs a point person “who goes to bed at night worrying about” parks and recreation. Willette said it would be a “monumental” task for one person to do it all, and estimated that a city such as Ellsworth might need a year-round staff of three to four people (a director, administrative assistant and one to two full-time maintenance workers) plus seasonal help as required.

The director and administrative assistant would oversee scheduling of use of the facilities and keep track of long-term maintenance needs as well as provide day-to-day oversight.

The subject of how such a department might interact or exist with the Down East Family YMCA was touched on at the Aug. 24 meeting. Both Willette and Steve Balboni, MRPA board president and director of Bath’s Parks and Recreation Department, said their communities have good relationships with the YMCAs in their respective communities.

“In no way is it intended to be a competition with anyone else offering opportunities,” said Councilor Dawn Hudson, who has chaired a three-member council subcommittee that has looked into the idea of a parks and recreation department.

Hudson said she hoped one takeaway from Ellsworth having its own department, if it chooses to go that route, would be that its staff could serve to highlight the recreational opportunities that exist in Ellsworth and drawing citizens out there to use them “so our community knows what we have to offer.”

The discussion about having a parks and recreation department in Ellsworth will continue Wednesday, Sept. 6, when the Recreation Commission holds its regular monthly meeting at 6 p.m. in the upstairs auditorium at City Hall. There may also be a quorum of city councilors present at that meeting.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.