By Mike Barhorst
As a result of the foresight of early town fathers, Sidney is a mecca of recreational opportunities. The crown jewel of our system of parks is Tawawa Park, a 226-acre nature preserve that includes lakes, a stream, a mill race, several bluffs, and heavily wooded areas with the wildlife protected. In addition to Tawawa Park, there are 18 neighborhood parks within ¼ mile distance from most residences, approximately 16 miles of dual use nature trails throughout the parks system.
In addition to the playing fields located at neighborhood parks, there are several sports complexes for both youth and adult leagues. In addition, there is a 612,000 gallon aquatic facility with a 30’ high, 295’ long spiral waterslide and speed waterslide to help residents and visitors keep their cool during the hot, humid Ohio summers.
The staff of the Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for improvements and the ongoing maintenance of all our recreational facilities. In addition, they are also responsible for a number of other city services. The full-time staff is assisted by seasonal workers who help care for numerous beauty areas totaling approximately 250 acres, including mowing the grass along SR47 within the city limits, the city-owned green area by the Great Miami River and various other areas.
In addition to mowing and grounds maintenance, Parks Department staffers are responsible for litter removal, the preparation of the seven baseball, six softball, ten soccer and two football fields for league activities. Perhaps surprisingly, there were more than 500 ballgames played in Sidney in 2016. In addition, there were 591 shelter house reservations.
The shelter houses are in high demand for family reunions, birthday parties, and various other family functions. I would certainly encourage you to consider holding your next family function at one of Sidney’s fine shelter houses. They are free to use, but reservations are required – and in some cases, the most popular shelters are booked for the season in the first couple of days the bookings are available.
The Parks and Recreation Department also provides more than two-dozen summer recreational programs for the youth of Sidney. The programs range from the ever popular fishing derby to art in the park, water aerobics to making bird feeders, jumbo Jenga to exploring nature in the park – the summer programs are a great way to keep kids active all summer. Perhaps the best feature of our summer recreational programs – they are free and offer an opportunity for all participants to learn something new, meet new friends, and improve their skills and techniques.
Another program about which you may be unaware conducted by the Parks and Recreation Department is the Summer Lunch Program. Lunch is served at eight sites Monday through Friday from June through mid-August. Hot meals are prepared daily by the staff of Wilson Health, and delivered to the parks for serving. The program is made possible by a grant through the Ohio Department of Education Summer Food Service Program for Children. In 2016, 8163 meals were prepared and served to children in need.
In addition, during the summer months the weekly food program is supplemented by a backpack program. Every Friday, participating children are provided with a supply of non-perishable food that they are able to take home and eat during the weekend. The contents of the weekend pack can vary depending on the food available. In 2016, 3702 meals were sent home with children who may not have otherwise had a balanced supply of food available. This program is funded by generous private donations.
The Parks and Recreation Department is kept busy operating the Sidney Water Park during the summer months. A total of 227 participants took advantage of the free swimming lessons offered last year at the Sidney Waterpark. This popular facility is open from the first Saturday after Memorial Day until two weeks before Labor Day.
The Sidney Water Park is also available for private parties. The facility can be rented Thursday-Saturday from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. and Sundays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Reservations and/or additional information is available by calling the waterpark office (937.498.8171).
The Senior Center moved into the Monarch Community Center in June 1998. This facility is also maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department. The Senior Center offers programs in four areas: education, recreation, socialization and health. Among the many programs and benefits offered, the Senior Center hosts health luncheons, carry-ins, and a fully equipped exercise room. Bingo, card games, trips, dances, shuffleboard, ping pong, billiards, and a host of others. Annual dues are only $30, and membership is open to those age 50 or older.
Finally, the Parks and Recreation Department oversees Graceland Cemetery. The City of Sidney has a strong desire is to keep the appearance of Graceland Cemetery beautiful and serene. Earlier this year the city completed an expansion to the cemetery that will offer over 3,000 new grave sites. In addition, the driveways offer shaded jogging, walking and bicycling trails. There is also a memorial tree and bench program available for those who wish to further memorialize a loved one.
I have written previously about the city’s Adopt-a-Park program. This city-wide program elicits the support of volunteers to provide time and resources for the general care and maintenance of city parks. This is a fabulous program to engage those in the community that want to give back by helping with maintaining the safety and appearance of city parks.
City staff, in conjunction with the Recreation Board, endeavors to meet priority needs and provide the citizens of Sidney with safe, wholesome leisure activities. Should you have questions about the Sidney’s wonderful park system, water park or cemetery, don’t hesitate to contact Parks and Recreation Director Duane Gaier (937.498.8105) or Recreation Specialist Jennie Rogers (937.498.8155). Of course, you are also welcome to contact any member of City Council.