The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Dena Martin
The Times 

Waitsburg Council Gives Parks & Rec District Green Light

Volunteers hope a revitalized district will help save the Waitsburg Fairgrounds and grandstands

 


WAITSBURG – A vital and active parks & recreation department may or may not become a reality for Waitsburg, but the Waitsburg City Council agreed to give it a go. At their June 20 meeting, the council voted unanimously to request that Walla Walla County reactivate the Waitsburg Parks & Recreation District.

Approval was granted in order to give interested parties the time necessary to gather information on revitalizing the department and to submit it to the county in order to run a levy on the November ballot.

“Whether parks and rec is the silver bullet or not isn’t so much the question. We do have to do something to keep families wanting to live here. So I’m glad we’re at least trying to get this thing going,” Council Member KC Kuykendall said.

“We need to give this option our approval in order to find out if it will actually fly, right? Otherwise, we are just kicking a can down the road,” he added.

Council member Kate Hockersmith has spearheaded the revitalization effort and told the Council that there has been a good deal of interest, especially among younger community members, in getting the program up and running again.

Hockersmith submitted a list of interested volunteers, including Danielle Carpenter, Trevor Johnson, Jaimee Knudson, Beka Adams, Emily Adams, Anne Adams, Wyatt Withers and Justin Steagall. Their combined experience includes community activism, coaching, 4-H and FFA leadership, horsemanship and recreation.

Hockersmith said that Walla Walla Board of County Commissioners Clerk Conti Vinti told her the next step was to ask council to approve the idea and ask the county to reactivate the department.

“We then appoint a two-member board and work down the line to appoint a five-member board. The board will come up with a mission statement, bylaws and budget and must submit that to the County. And the County runs the levy with the vote in the fall. So we won’t know for awhile that we’re actually up-and-running,” Hockersmith said.

Kuykendall cautioned that, through the process, the department essentially becomes a county-administered entity.

“We are talking about potentially either transferring title to and/or at least giving a long-term use lease to city assets, so we want to walk through that process carefully on how it’s going to be managed and what we’re going to do. The last thing we want to do is for the City to turn over these assets and have it go backwards, or invite additional liability,” Kuykendall said.

Operating as a district, there is a wide variety of options for both raising funds and in determining what the district will be responsible for, Hockersmith said.

She submitted a list of future possibilities that the district could oversee, including a walking/running trail on the Touchet River dike, a pocket park between the Anchor Bar building and Whoopemup Hollow Café, a garden and park at the old Waits Mill site, improved sprinkler systems at the cemeteries, grandstand and race track restorations, reintroduction of racing of some sort, equestrian and 4-H center at the fairgrounds, opening the Don Thomas Building for winter riding, fixing the leak under the pool and pool upgrades, pickle ball at the city park and the addition of a dog park.

Hockersmith acknowledged that there may be difficulty garnering public support for a tax levy on the tails of recent property tax increases. Other challenges she noted, include fairgrounds and grandstands renovations, getting groups interested in the fairgrounds to work together, repairing a leak under the pool and keeping the pool open on weekends.

Hockersmith said she has been talking with Prescott which has a very successful Parks and Recreation District.

“This group will not have to reinvent the wheel. Prescott is doing an amazing job, and they have offered to help,” she said.

Mayor Marty Dunn expressed concern about the district’s sample short-term plan, saying that it continued to leave assets such as the park, pool and fairgrounds under the city’s care for several years.

“If we don’t do something with this, we’re just kicking the can down the highway again, for another year, or three, or five. I’m not seeing anything locked in concrete. As of right now, and the last council meeting, we have not seen anything different than what we’ve seen in the last year. I don’t want to sit here and discuss this again next year, “he said.

Kuykendall agreed with the concern, but said parks and recreation seems like the best path forward to generate new revenues and new blood to manage assets that the city doesn’t have the budget to maintain.

“I’m at least encouraged at the potential parks and rec start and seeing some folks enthused and signed up. If we can just make that happen, and maybe some other things, like a partnership with an investor that might like to come and take the fairgrounds as a whole under their wing, parks and rec could manage that process well,” he said.

“I agree,” Dunn said. “If someone was able to do that we’d be sitting in pretty high cotton.”

 

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