Playing across boundaries |

Playing across boundaries

Daily Staff Writer
Special to the Daily Last year's little leaguers practice on an Eagle ballfield.

Kathy Heicher

Eagle Correspondent

There was a time in this valley when the words “intergovernmental agreement” seemed more a fanciful philosophy than a concept that was actually going to take hold.

Times have changed and the valley’s recreation providers are in the forefront of an effort to provide services beyond their respective taxing boundaries. The end result, leaders say, is a valleywide cooperative program that will benefit the citizens of the valley by maximizing staff talent and district resources, while minimizing cost to the people served.

Kids who want to play soccer will have access to the expertise of the Vail Recreation District staff and to public soccer fields throughout the valley. Baseball and softball players will tap into the already established programs that the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District – or WECMRD – has to offer and will find places to practice earlier in the season downvalley, where the weather is warmer. Lacrosse players can look to the Avon Recreation Department next fall for programs.

Other government entities, such as Eagle-Vail and Edwards metropolitan districts, are stepping up to make their parks and fields available for the cooperative program. All that, and non-differential fees, too.

Vail kids who want to play baseball in Eagle will pay the same fees as the WECMRD kid and vice-versa for the Eagle kids that want to participate in up-valley soccer programs

“People are getting the best of everything in the valley. There’s quality resources there, also,” says Steve Russell, WECMRD director.

“It’s an opportunity for us not to be territorial; and to be more cooperative,” says Dennis Stein, executive director of the Vail Recreation District.

Play underway

Credit a number of factors for the new attitude and programs. There’s new administrators, with new approaches, at both WECMRD and Vail Recreation District along with changes on both boards of directors. The administrators have been meeting for several months to work out the shared program concept.

WECMRD, cash-strapped for its first 20 years of existence, is now enjoying the benefits of a voter-approved tax increase that has resulted in money to upgrade recreation facilities throughout the district. There’s also been an example set by some already functioning partnerships between the various recreation districts, local towns and metro districts.

The cooperation has already started with the youth soccer program. Vail Recreation, WECMRD and the Vail Valley Soccer Club – a private organization – put together a spring recreation program, working together to schedule field times and organize teams.

Vail Recreation’s youth services coordinator has a soccer background and the Vail Valley Soccer Club specializes in training coaches and officials. Over 300 kids have already signed up for the program.

Meanwhile, the WECMRD staff down in Eagle has managed the youth baseball program for years, drawing kids by the hundreds. The downvalley recreation district has a philosophy of offering programs that are affordable and open to all. That sets the standard for the coordinated program.

The Vail rec district will help with field maintenance and team sign-ups. There’s no such thing as “in-district” or “out-of-district” differences in program costs or eligibility.

“We’re reaching across boundaries … we feel good about this. It’s open to all the kids,” says Russell, noting that one benefit, for parents, is less team traveling to ball games and a strengthening of the neighborhood character of the teams.

Simple approach

Stein says the new, coordinated approach to recreation is fairly straight-forward. The recreation providers decide who does what best, then make a sort of natural trade-off.

“Everybody has been open to this. The staffs were already working on the concept and the boards were not resistant,” he explains.

Stein says Vail doesn’t have the number of younger families with kids that downvalley communities do and the rec district was experiencing declining numbers in youth programs.

Under the valleywide concept, the numbers are large enough to allow districts to offer a cheaper and more consistent program. Each entity helps the other promote programs.

“There’s a survival mechanism there. We have to be realistic about if we don’t change the way business is conducted, would we be in the business very long?” Stein asks.

Declining enrollment affects the ability of a recreation provider to offer quality programs.

Russell says the economic factors are good for all of the entities involved and the cooperative program maximizes the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses of each recreation provider.

“We can share expertise, rather than each hiring a person to run similar programs. That’s a lot more efficient in a 50,000 population county,” he points out. From a staff standpoint, managing 300 kids in a program is not all that much more work than managing 100 kids, Russell adds.

Kids who want to get serious about a sport will still have the option of going to private club teams. Public recreation districts typically don’t provide those kinds of programs, although Russell says the district will cooperate with such programs.

“If each district is trying to kind of establish its own little kingdom we’re hurting each other,” Stein says. “You can never get enough participants to run a program at optimal size.”

At this point, explains Russell, the various districts are taking relatively small steps and the agencies will iron out the problems as they come up. “People will be getting the best of everything in this valley,” he says.

“I think if we follow this to its logical continuation,” Stein says, “it will just mean more programming, at a more affordable price, with a more consistent product to everyone.”

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