Leaps and Bounds

December 1, 2012, Department, by Danielle Taylor

Majestic views of the Rocky Mountains and a welcoming community feel were just a few of the reasons Erie, Colorado's population has shot up so dramatically in the past two decades. Municipality: City of Erie, Colorado
Population: 18,505
Year Agency Founded: 2007
Annual Operating Budget: $4,744,544
Agency Head: Jill Wait, Parks & Recreation Director

Essential Information: One recreation and community center, 198 acres of developed parkland, one 41-acre community park, nine neighborhood parks, 600 acres of open space, 33 miles of trails, one skatepark, one outdoor spraypad, one inline skating rink, one cultural/historical site, 11 picnic areas, 20 athletic fields, 12 playgrounds, two reservoirs with fishing access, one sand volleyball court, one cemetery, one concessions facility.

Growth Spurt:
The past two decades have been an exciting period of change for Erie, Colorado, and its newly founded parks and recreation department has done an admirable job of keeping up. Erie’s 1990 population of 1,258 had remained relatively stable for several decades, but when new housing developments were built to accommodate the influx of suburbanites from the nearby cities of Denver and Boulder, the population shot up to nearly 6,300 by 2000 and more than 18,000 by 2010.

“Prior to 2000, streets in downtown Erie weren’t even paved!” says Parks and Recreation Director Jill Wait. “These new residents were crying out for places to play—parks, trails, playgrounds, open spaces, ball fields, and a community/senior center.” In 2006, voters approved a $16.8 million bond initiative to build a community center, and the new Department of Parks and Recreation was formed in May 2007.

Since then, Erie Parks and Recreation has grown from a staff of 12 to a dedicated corps of 29 full-time staff and 161 part-time and seasonal staff, augmented by nearly 10,000 volunteer hours each year. And this agency’s staffers aren’t satisfied with simply providing the basics—they’re committed to offering exciting, innovative opportunities for recreation and play. One example is the Erie Community Skatepark, scheduled to open this month, which will be the first public Street League-Certified Skatepark in the world. Other offerings include a wide variety of non-traditional fitness programs, including TRX Suspension Training and Nia, and hugely popular community events, like the Great Erie Outdoor Adventure, a community-wide campout that drew 689 overnight campers in 2012.

A defining measure of the department’s success is its recent CAPRA accreditation, which the agency was awarded at the 2012 NRPA Congress and Exposition. CAPRA, the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies, recognizes park and recreation agencies for excellence in operations and service through an extensive process that evaluates an agency’s compliance with the 144 standards for national accreditation. Erie passed with flying colors, achieving a rare 100-percent compliance rate. The agency was also recognized as a finalist for the 2012 National Gold Medal for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management at the 2012 Congress.

Erie has achieved a lot in only five years of existence, but the department sees this as just the beginning.

“Earlier this year, Erie voters approved a 10-year extension to the trails and natural areas property tax by an overwhelming majority (75 percent to 25 percent)—further evidence that parks and recreation amenities and services in Erie are essential to our residents’ quality of life,” Wait says. “Team Erie is committed to our vision: Erie is a community where everyone participates in recreational experiences that engage, inspire, and enrich lives.”

Danielle Tayloris Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation (dtaylor@nrpa.org).