The year 2020 began with the anticipation of another great year for the Conejo Recreation and Park District and Conejo Valley residents, with a full schedule of recreational programs, events, and gatherings—many of the time-tested favorites, along with a few new offerings. That quickly changed in the spring, as public health orders forced size reductions or eliminations of many programs and events. Classes and reservations were canceled, and fees were refunded as well.
Shortly thereafter, the summer schedule was drastically cut, and staffing was reduced accordingly. The public health orders changed often and repeatedly, which made planning and forecasting difficult, if not impossible. The excitement of the new year was tempered with the uncertainly of planned activities, dwindling revenue, and the fear of potential unemployment. However, in the midst of this most trying of years, the Park District administration and staff proved to themselves and the community that their flexibility and creativity were yet to be fully revealed. The year 2020 did just that!
As local businesses, restaurants, gyms, and schools were closed, families began searching for any accessible recreational activities, places to exercise, or open spaces, in order to get fresh air! More than ever, recreation and parks became extremely essential to the physical and emotional well-being of our community, and the Park District’s role in helping to provide some of these services (including social services) became even more apparent.
The Park District has been able to keep parks open, even while posting thousands of required signs at community centers and open spaces to keep the public informed of the ever-changing public health orders. The Parks Maintenance staff has stayed very busy, not only with the routine care of parks and facilities, but also because of the necessity to regularly post and re-post signs and respond to the increased level of discarded trash, littering, dog droppings, and graffiti.
Recreation programs have pivoted to serve in nontraditional roles. New programming was implemented to meet the changing public health orders head-on and to help provide guidance with activities that were allowed such as daycare, art classes, movies and concerts in parking lots (a large, inflatable screen was purchased for the movies), drive-thru family events, outdoor fitness and training, and even a modified Teen Summer Musical.
With the many adjustments to programs and classes, the Park District has been unable to provide work for many of the valued part-time recreation staff, as well as contract instructors who support the hundreds of classes, lessons, programs, gatherings, and community events that are often provided. However, a virtual community recreation center was created, and games and activities for kids have been published regularly in the newspaper. Chalk sidewalk notes and fun activity bags have even been left at the doorsteps of many patrons.
Seniors have been fed weekdays through the Goebel Adult Community Center and Senior Nutrition Program, and CRPD staff has regularly worked to distribute meals to those in need via Food Share and the Safe Passages program, providing food to thousands of people. The Therapeutic Recreation team found new ways to help meet the needs of residents with special needs too! In the words of General Manager Jim Friedl, “CRPD stepped up. CRPD was flexible. CRPD did what needed to be done. CRPD did what needed to be fun!”
CRPD Board meetings still occur on schedule—thanks to the IT Team’s creativity and ingenuity. Regular updates are provided by staff. Although the participation and revenue numbers were not encouraging and the outlook was not promising, business operations did not stop, and the Board was able to address pressing needs for the community and the District.
Several significant actions have been taken by the Board as well, including approval of a concept plan for building and park improvements to the Conejo Community Center and Park, approval of three new playgrounds at Glenwood and Wildwood Neighborhood Parks and Peppertree Playfields, and conducting a study session to review the ratios of parks and population in the Park District, as it relates to potential residential growth in the community.
As the Park District begins implementing plans for 2021, there remains much uncertainly, yet much hope. CRPD is committed to meeting the recreational needs of the community, and where feasible, the social service needs, regardless of the changes or challenges. The support from the community has never wavered; the many agency and organizational partnerships continue to be a force multiplier of programs and facilities.
CRPD will be working hard to ramp up the variety of programs and regular events the community has come to enjoy and expect. Some of the “new approaches” to recreation may also be retained in the future menu of scheduled course offerings. The Park District looks forward to making 2021 a banner year for the community, but we will need your support and participation to make it happen. Let’s join together and show that “Parks make life better!”
Doug Nickles is a Director/Board Member for the Conejo Recreation and Park District and the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency. The views expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the District, Agency, or the respective Boards. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.