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Portage offers new parks and rec programs

October 5, 2018

Starting new recreation programs in Portage isn’t child’s play.

In less than a year on the job, Portage’s new recreation coordinator has added an array of new programs for people of all ages — and just in time for Halloween, there’s another new program on the horizon.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Board on Tuesday heard from Recreation Coordinator Mike Percy about what’s new in having fun.

Here’s a partial list of the programs Percy has started since he began work in late October 2017:

Tiny Tot Camp, a series of four weeklong half-day programs for children age 3 to 6, offered this summer at Collipp-Worden Park. In each of the four sessions last summer, between seven and 15 youngsters per session participated in guided activities such as games and crafts.Junior Warrior Basketball, a Saturday program going on now at Wayne E. Bartels Middle School, for boys and girls in two age groups: third through fifth grade and sixth through eighth grades. The girls varsity coaching staff from Portage High School leads the participants — 16 in each age group — in games and practice of basketball skills.The Daddy-Daughter Dance, held in February at Rusch Elementary School, in conjunction with Valentine’s Day.The upcoming Pumpkins in the Park, set for Oct. 21 at Collipp-Worden Park.

Parks and Recreation Manager Dan Kremer said the city has not, in recent years, offered a recreation program tied to Halloween — and based on initial interest, he expects Pumpkins in the Park to be a popular event, and likely an annual one.

Kremer noted, too, that Percy has met three of the four water safety-related requirements that were a condition of his hiring. He has become certified both as a lifeguard and a lifeguard instructor, and is certified as a water safety (swimming lessons) instructor. The next step, Kremer said, is certification as an instructor authorized to certify other water safety instructors.

Offering water safety and lifeguard certification in-house, instead of outsourcing it, was one key reason why, in the summer of 2017, Kremer lobbied for the creation of the new position of recreation coordinator.

Leslie Hawkinson, who formerly handled administrative tasks for the Parks and Recreation Department, retired in the autumn of 2017, and Kremer advocated replacing the administrative position with a full-time, salaried post of recreation coordinator.

Kremer praised Hawkinson’s skills, and noted that she had set up and run some of the city’s recreation programs.

But the needs in the area of aquatic activities — including a year-round indoor pool at Rusch Elementary School and Silver Lake Beach in the summer — loomed large, as did the possibilities for new recreation programs, Kremer said.

Percy came to Portage from La Crosse, where he’d worked for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. He also led youth camps while a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Not every new Portage recreation program has taken off, Percy acknowledged.

For example, he’d tried to start a Zumba exercise program, which wasn’t popular because similar programs are offered elsewhere in the city, including at La Vita Fitness Center at Divine Savior Healthcare.

One of the biggest challenges in starting new programs is making sure similar programs don’t already exist.

“We don’t want to overlap,” he said.

Percy said it also can be a challenge to offer programs at a cost that is affordable, but which also covers at least some of the costs the city incurs for overseeing the program.

Sometimes, solutions to that problem can come from surprising sources.

Take, for example, Pumpkins in the Park.

Originally, the event had been advertised as having a cost of $7 for each participant who wishes to carve a pumpkin.

But a parent whose children have participated in city recreation programs offered to provide pumpkins for sale, and now the cost is only $3 per pumpkin.

“They’re going to bring in a load of pumpkins, and however many of them we need, we’ll sell,” Percy said.

Pumpkins in the Park also will include trick-or-treating at various booths in the park, entertainment by David Landau, face-painting and games.

All of that will be offered free of charge, with extra costs only for pumpkins and for hot drinks and Craig’s Popcorn offered for sale.

Not all potential new recreation programs are aimed at children.

Kremer said the department is working on a long-term goal to establish a senior citizens’ potluck meal, with the city providing the main dish and each participant bringing a dish to pass. The proposal also calls for entertainment by Portage High School music groups.

Percy said it’s unlikely the senior potluck program will happen this year. And, he said, he’s willing to seek help from other entities, such as Columbia County’s Aging and Disability Resource Center, to plan the event.

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