Year-Round Programs for Young and Old

by Jenny Dubach

What an amazing role this organization plays within its community! Residents of the City of Bluffton, Indiana benefit year-round from the planning and hard work done by the city’s parks and recreation staff.

Bluffton first established a Parks and Recreation Board in 1945, which operated in accordance with state statutes in place at that time. In 1965, the city created the Department of Parks & Recreation to carry out policies and procedures enacted by the board.

Twenty years ago, the main job of Bluffton Parks & Recreation was to maintain the swimming pool and city parks. Summer programs consisted of tennis, swimming and gymnastics lessons. Those working in the department began attending state and national conferences to learn about new and exciting programming.

Today, Bluffton Parks & Recreation oversees 12 parks (including a dog park), 8 ball diamonds, the city’s gym and weights room, the Wells Community Pool, River Greenway, a sledding hill, and much more. The department offers more than 100 summer programs for residents of all ages to enjoy. The staff credits their success to a partnership that includes local businesses and other organizations, as well as a network of volunteers.

Pam Vanderkolk has served as Superintendent of the department since 1998. In 2002, Brandy Fiechter was hired as Assistant Superintendent to help plan year-round parks programming. Laurie Baumgartner was added as Sports Coordinator the same year, focusing particularly on health and wellness through running events and other sports activitites.

In high school, Brandy helped coach gymnastics for the Bluffton parks department and found she loved working with children. When the position for program planning became available, Brandy felt it was a perfect fit.

“I really like the freedom to try new, crazy events, such as the giant slip and slide, cardboard boat races, shaving cream fight, Pumpkin Dunken—or at night time, the Halloween egg hunt. What really keeps me motivated are the messages and notes we receive after events like these,” she says.

One such note reads, “I think this is awesome that you do what you do. People like you remind the rest of us that the world still has good, caring people in it. I’m a single, full-time father, and good family fun has to be searched for. It’s awesome to be able to find it right here in town.

“So, thank you for giving us the opportunity. The kids and I had a great time, and we look forward to next year’s hunt.”

Another happy resident wrote, “We moved here a few months ago. We chose Bluffton, after researching all of the surrounding areas, solely because there are so many free or low cost events going on all throughout the year.

“I know how much work and planning must go into making these events run smoothly. I just wanted to let you know that our family thinks that YOU GUYS ROCK!!!!! Keep up the great work!”

Some of Bluffton Parks & Recreation’s most popular events include the annual Daddy-Daughter Dance, Princess Tea Party, and the concerts and movies held at Kehoe Park throughout the summer months.

 On June 14th, many children will enjoy the Foam Party at Bluffton’s Splash Pad. And, all ages are welcome to participate in “The City Challenge Race: Do’s, Clues, & Running Shoes” on June 24th. City Challenge is part run and part “Amazing Race,” combining puzzles, obstacles and other activities with the excitement of a foot race. Participants may compete individually or as teams of two to four people.

Other fun and important programming from Bluffton’s Parks & Recreation department include photo contests, a women’s self-defense class, Theater Thursday for seniors, card-making classes, Yoga in the Park, star gazing, Independence Day concert and fireworks display…and much, much more! For a full listing of all upcoming parks activities, check the City of Bluffton’s website, or “like” Bluffton Parks on Facebook to keep track of current program offerings.

Since 2002, the parks department has received 28 awards—about half from the Indiana Park & Recreation Association, and the other half from an annual National Parks & Recreation Association conference. “Parks are vitally important to establishing and maintaining the quality of life in a community, ensuring the health of families and youth, and contributing to the economic and environmental well-being of a community,” explains Brandy. “Our events help improve the local economy by attracting tourism and shoppers who will purchase other goods and services while visiting the area.

“Our goal is to host quality, affordable, accessible events and programs that bring our community together. The department is constantly changing and evolving to offer a variety of different events as the interests of our participants change.

“What I love about this job is that we try our best to do new things and are always looking for passionate people who are willing to share their interests with others. We have made a lot of great connections with some very talented people.”

In the next five years, Bluffton’s Parks & Recreation department hopes to update the community pool, expand the Interurban Trail on the north side of the city, and renovate all of the city’s basketball courts. Brandy says they also wish to resurface paths and replace the restrooms at Washington Park—and, of course, continue to offer great events and activities to Bluffton’s residents!

When Brandy isn’t working, she enjoys road trips across the country with her husband Todd, who works at Neoti and also performs on drums with the Staci Stork Band. It the Fiechters’ goal to visit every U.S. state, but they’ve also been overseas several times to visit former foreign exchange students who once lived their home. Brandy loves learning about different cultures, trying new foods, and spending time with the locals.

If you’d like to volunteer with the Bluffton Parks & Recreation department, or if you have programming ideas, contact the staff by phone or email.

Bluffton Parks & Recreation

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