One of the last weekends in July was a busy one for Evansville’s parks. The Women’s Hospital Classic — part of the United States Tennis Association circuit — was played at Wesselman Tennis Center. Also, the 2010 13-year-old Pony Zone Tournament was played at the Evansville Youth East fields in our newest city park (the park with no name), the 66 acres adjoining the State Hospital grounds. Congratulations, by the way, to Evansville’s East team for winning the baseball tournament and advancing to the Pony World Series in Fullerton, Calif. And if you are a tennis fan, the caliber of the local USTA tournament certainly was impressive.
What is not impressive was the condition of two of our nicest, prettiest, and most heavily utilized city parks. Those of you who read this column regularly (no, you do not have to admit it publicly) might pick up on two recurring themes in these publisher’s letters: quality of life issues and beautification efforts in our fair city. By “beautification,” I even would accept “maintenance.”
First, let me be right up front and say this is not an indictment of Dan Schall, the executive director of the Department of Parks & Recreation or his 12 (!) full-time workers entrusted to take care of Evansville’s 65 parks and 2,300 acres in our community. I think Schall has done a terrific job with what he has been given to work with. Nor is it a “shot across the bow” at Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel’s administration, which I am sure would also like to see beautification and maintenance efforts succeed but does not have access to proper and sufficient funding. It is a “shot across the bow” that our community seems to find this acceptable. Take an objective look around, and I think you will come to the same conclusion.
So when I see the fairly deplorable condition of Wesselman Park (sans the tennis center) or the new trails at our new 66-acre, again-unnamed city park adjacent to the State Hospital rapidly becoming weed-choked (no signage, water, bathrooms, etc.), I am not looking to assign blame. With city budgets forced to be slashed (the parks budget is roughly $10 million) to meet fiscal responsibilities and parks not having the necessary money or manpower, I feel it is time for us to take a new look and fresh approach to our community’s efforts, because what we are doing now ain’t working.
As a past chairman of Keep Evansville Beautiful (another drastically underfunded nonprofit organization using private dollars), the instances of good beautification efforts being unfulfilled due to the inability to provide ongoing maintenance were numerous. Very frustrating indeed to see quality projects in effect “turned down.” Let me say I am all for the new ball fields at the existing Roberts Stadium site, but one does not need to look any further than the Goebel Soccer Complex to see the difficulty in maintaining what already exists due to lack of budget and manpower. We better not just “hope” we can maintain the complex.
The dilemma, then, is this: Should we keep on limping along with the difficulties mentioned and with no improvement on the horizon? Or is it time to get serious about this critical issue and convene a can-do taskforce of people who care about the quality of life issues and are willing to roll up their sleeves? I know I am. We have the opportunity to demonstrate a tremendous public-private sector partnership that can get results. Let’s, as a community, get moving and further help enhance our quality of life.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you.
Todd A. Tucker