Parks commission considers Friends of the Parks organization

Friday, August 4, 2017

If you’re the type of person who enjoys lending a hand to improve city parks, the Eureka Springs Parks Commission has an opportunity for you.

On Wednesday, July 26, commissioner Ferguson Stewart said he wants to start a group called Friends of Eureka Springs Parks. The group would help improve the parks department, Stewart said, and he’s already spoken with a few citizens who seem interested in the idea.

“I talked to some locals, and they would like to see this program become a reality,” Stewart said. “What I want to do is a program to enhance the parks … a program to invite locals to participate in our parks system by having membership of this association.”

There would be a cost for membership, Stewart said, and members would receive benefits such as discounts on park services and the chance to camp for free once a year.

“These things are all part of the membership value,” Stewart said. “The locals basically come to me and say, ‘We understand it costs money to run the park. We want to help.’ ”

As part of the group, Stewart said, members would be required to have a certain amount of volunteer hours. They would have a voucher, he said, which would be signed by a parks employee to certify the amount of hours worked. Stewart suggested giving that job to parks office manager Dove Bolerjack.

“The office manager would manage the program, basically organizing the membership club,” Stewart said. “This would be able to provide us not only the resource of a group coming into the park that’s local, but it would also provide ownership of the parks in a way.”

Another aspect of the group, he continued, would give members extra benefits for referring a certain number of people to join. Stewart said this method would encourage and increase participation in the group. If Bolerjack doesn’t want to manage the program, he said, one of the parks committees could take it on.

“I’d like to see a committee adopt this program, like the springs committee or one of the other committees,” Stewart said. “That would help keep it afloat.”

The program should support itself, Stewart said, through the membership fees. He said he’s excited to have a group support the parks by donating time and money.

“It would bring additional funds to the park, but it’s not just funds … it’s volunteerism,” Stewart said. “This program would not just be a membership card. It would be a reward program for them, as well as provide needed support for the park.”

Parks director Justin Huss said he supports the idea.

“I’m 100 percent on board with all this. The biggest challenge is we need a volunteer coordinator,” Huss said. “We’re about at the end of our rope with what our office manager can take on. We’ve deferred to her quite a bit.”

“Really, what we need is independent individuals in the community to step up,” commission Steven Foster added.

Chairman Bill Featherstone pointed out the program at Hobbs State Park, saying it’s the model Eureka Springs parks should strive for.

“They’re in support of the state’s largest park, but they operate independently,” Featherstone said. “They do a lot of great work. They raise a lot of money, and they have a very specific mission.”

Featherstone said the commission couldn’t take the program on without somebody in the community offering to help organize it.

“I commend you for taking it this far, but to take it all the way, these kind of things need somebody to be the ringleader,” Featherstone said. “This is highly successful in other areas, and it’s past time for us to get something going, too.”

There’s a Friends of Leatherwood account, Huss said, that still has $257 in it. The commission can’t spend that money, he said, but a volunteer group could. Featherstone told Stewart to keep investigating the program, saying it’s important to get it going in Eureka Springs.

“It can really fill a void. As we increase our amenities, maintenance is going to become a bigger and bigger issue,” Featherstone said. “It’s going to be a more pressing thing on us. In a couple of years, our trails system is going to be much more so than it is now.”

He added, “There’s different offshoots of this that can take place, like adopt-a-trail. That could be a whole separate program. It could come under that umbrella. Everybody has different interests. They can find their area and plug in.”

Also at the meeting, the commission agreed to consult with the Eureka Springs Preservation Society on where to move the Spanish War Memorial and appointed commissioner James Weaver to the treasurer position.

Huss presented the director’s report, saying the parks have been improving financially during the summer. That improvement is apparent across the board, Huss said. In June, he said, parks brought in more than $1,000 over the projected revenue for the month. That’s nearly $4,000 more than the revenue from last June, Huss said.

“This is one month. This is just June,” Huss said. “I think we’ve got a really good chance in 2017 of our total revenue being doubled from 2015, which is pretty darn good.”

The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15, at City Hall.

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