With the number of local parks and the amount of recreation both residents and visitors engage in around Homer, you’d think the city had a robustly-staffed parks and recreation department. But that’s not the case. Parks is a one-person division under Public Works, while Community Recreation is a one-person division in the city manager’s office. But together, Matt Steffy and Mike Illg, the superintendent of parks and the manager of recreation, respectively, and with the help of an army of volunteers, make it work.
The pair were on KBBI’s Coffee Table Wednesday morning talking about how their operations were affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic.
“One of my biggest challenges was not having access to the schools,” Illg said. “And we still don't have access to the indoor facility at the schools. The school district is taking the mitigation very seriously.”
“I can say on the park-side this has been a very interesting 13 months. When everything first went into lockdown and things were closing down, the community kind of rediscovered just how important and how valuable outdoor recreation space is,” Steffi said. “You know, at this time last year when in a typical day we could have, you know 10 to 12 people parked at Mariners Park out enjoying the beach. Last year in April, the biggest I saw when I went down and did the count was 58 vehicles at Mariner Park and 170-some people out on the beach.”
Steffy points out that volunteers are vital to a small office like his.
“We're fortunate to have a very strong volunteer community and people that work with landscaping businesses and own heavy equipment to come in and do some work,” he said. “I’ve worked in municipalities before where it was the parks department that did all the work taking care of the infields, chalk the lines and repair and dugouts and stuff like that.”
He added that as volunteer efforts “kind of go up and down,” he would like to see the city develop a more capacity to address those needs.
Both Steffy and Illg were happy to be able to share views about the scope of their work with the city council last month, in work sessions put together by newish City Manager Rob Dumouchel.
“Just having that communication and face time as an employee to a city council member I think was just so, so good because we all know each other in different capacities, but when it comes down to the business of serving the taxpayers, we want to make sure everything is clear and concise and every penny is allocated for,” Illg said.
“And I think it's really valuable too,” Steffy said. “You know, kind of back all the way up and talk about what exactly are we paying for and what are we getting for what we're funding, what do we expect to get out of that? And then also just as importantly, what are we not funding and what impact does that have on the operations and the quality of the services that our departments can offer.”
Other tidbits from the Coffee Table include news of traffic improvements coming this summer at Karen Hornaday Park, and the discovery of a new sport: Philosophy Soccer.