Photos Andy Calvert
The numbers can seem mind boggling
27 parks, seven facilities, 52 athletic fields, 22 playgrounds on 787.8 total acres. Of course with those numbers come others like 609 trash cans and barrels that have to be changed, 762 irrigation heads needing maintenance, and all those fields don’t mow themselves. Don’t forget bathrooms and that need to stay clean, resulting in roughly 1,674 toilet cleanings each week.
That’s not even mentioning youth sports, events, special populations and more that the Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation staff manage throughout the year. While COVID-19 forced spring sports and the Harbin Clinic Leprechaun-a-thon to cancel, parks and recreation staff took it in stride and used the time to prepare for the future – and yes there is quite a bright future.
“Many times people don’t know everything that goes into parks and recreation,” RFPRA Director Todd Wofford says. “They don’t realize how many parks and facilities we maintain or how many programs we oversee every year.”
For now, the aim is returning to a sense of normalcy, and all throughout Rome and Floyd County the parks and facilities and programs are starting to do just that.
In early May, Mary Hardin Thornton could be found outside the Lock and Dam Campground Store wearing a wide hat and helping dispose of weeds as she and a crew of Floyd County Master Gardeners worked to spruce up the store. Inside the store, a new mural was painted, things were deep cleaned and the inventory restocked. The maintenance crews were working hard to refurbish the camp sites and prepare for the reopening.
Once it reopened, the campground welcomed campers to its sites and lots of people returned to launch their boat or test their luck at catching fish.
“I think Lock and Dam Parks and Campground is really a hidden jewel in Rome and Floyd County,” Thornton says. “It’s got lots of history, trails, great camping sites, a massive pavilion for rentals, good fishing and just about anything you could ever want.”
Registering and reserving campsites will soon be far easier too, as Thornton and her crew have been undertaking the process of moving reservations to an online system set to open before the fall.
Of all the local parks, most people are familiar with Ridge Ferry located in the heart of Rome and featuring a long list of amenities.
The park boasts a wide array of features including a well-used walking and running trail, the Coca-Cola stage, the treehouse, the dog park, which opened last year, several pavilions, a couple of playgrounds and the brand new outdoor fitness equipment upgraded with the help of a grant from the Heart of the Community Foundation.
The old fitness equipment, which was part of a previous Heart of the Community grant, needed to be replaced. With the grant money and labor from the parks division, the new concrete pads and all the equipment was installed and ready to go. Although yellow caution tape surrounded it for a few weeks due to COVID-19 precautions, once the tape was removed several people took advantage of it.
“The money from the grant allowed us to buy the equipment, and we were able to use our own labor to install it,” Wofford says. “We have three new stations with several exercise options, which allow people to get in a good total-body workout.”
And don’t forget the popular Ridge Ferry Farmer’s Market each Saturday and Wednesday from 7 to 11 a.m. running from now until October 3 where customers can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers and a long list of goodies too numerous to mention.
Events also play a key role in parks and recreation activities, but the virus took its toll on most spring gatherings. However, the annual fireworks display on July 4th is still on.
The Patriotic Party in the Park is taking a hiatus this year, but thanks to Redmond Regional Medical Center’s sponsorship, the fireworks display on July 4th evening is a go. This year Zambelli is launching the display and has created a program that should be treat.
The roughly 20-minute program promises to shoot upwards of 2,500 fireworks shells and will include lots of booms and many multicolored displays throughout the show.
Over the past several years, the fireworks were launched from a much lower point requiring the need to have larger shells to gain enough altitude to be seen. This year, the pyrotechnics launch from the top of Jackson Hill allowing for the use of smaller shells and a lot more of them. The higher altitude should also allow the show to be seen through more of Rome.
In 2019, more than 3,500 children took part in recreation programs and sports offered by parks and recreation. With offerings in basketball, football, baseball, softball, volleyball, cheerleading and more, Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation has something for almost everyone. But this year, the spring season came to a close before it even really got started.
“One of the toughest things about this from a sports perspective is that no kids get a chance to redo their eight or nine-year-old spring and summer. I hurt for the boys and girls who would have had that break-out season and fallen in love with baseball or softball this spring,” Wofford says. “We can’t wait to be able to get those kids back out on the fields and playing.”
Although spring sports were not able to be played, Wofford and the sports crew managed to secure baseball and softball tournaments, helping not only boost RFPRA’s coffers but also bringing in some much needed outside revenue into town.
The first two weekends of June saw 200-plus teams playing in tournaments at local fields, representing a financial impact of more than $600,000 to Rome, according to the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau. Those numbers don’t include three more tournaments planned to close out June and early July.
The sports crew also wants to continue building on the foundations set in 2019. Baseball, softball, volleyball and basketball players all enjoyed special free skills clinics involving local high school and college coaches and athletes helping teach younger players the game.
In a year where things haven’t gone as most anyone would have planned, Parks and Recreation has weathered the problems like everyone else. But the plans to keep going and improve the offerings continue.
“We’re going to be here, and we’re going to continue to work hard to keep our parks in great condition and our programs and sports moving in the right direction,” Wofford says. “We used this time to make a lot of improvements, and we’ve got plans to make things even better going forward.”