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Rec. Dept. helps drive economy in summer
Kids flock to programs, young people find jobs
SUMMER CAMP file 060107 02
In this file photo from 2007, Thomas Bowen, front, and Chandler Stanford, ride their bikes during summer camp at Julia P. Bryant Elementary. Camp programs run by the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Dept. get underway June 1. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/Herald File
    Regionally known for its fine facilities and water park attraction, the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department (SBCPRD) is an important part of our local economy when Georgia Southern is not in "full swing."
    Providing jobs for teenagers and day care for working parents, the SBCPRD has been a summertime mainstay for many and the centerpiece for summertime fun in Bulloch County.
    "We know how important it is to provide quality recreational activities for our local residents," said Mike Rollins, director of the SBCPRD. "I have been in this position for 22 years, and I have seen things change over that time. More women are working which means they need help with their children over the summer, and kids like a diversity of recreational choices, and we have tried to provide in both of those areas."
    With the expansion of Splash in the Boro prepared to come on line in the next three weeks and day camps quickly filling up, the department has geared up for another record breaking summer.
    "We expect over 135,000 visitors to Splash this summer," said Chad Avret, operations division manager for the Department. "That will be an increase of 29,000 more than last year. Further, we estimate revenues for Splash to top $1.6 million which will be an increase of $500,000."
    Avret said Splash employees 125 young people as life guards and front desk personnel. He said another 40 are employed as concession stand workers in the water park and at concession stands around Mill Creek.
    "We do provide a number of jobs, and we are very proud of that, but this is a big operation out here in the summer, and we really need the help," he said.
    Other areas of employment opportunity include athletic camps and summer day camps. Sherrie Zeigler serves as recreation manager with duties that include the administration of summer programs, camps, and athletic tournaments in addition to community recreation. Zeigler said her division is also expecting growth in its programming this summer.
    "This season, we will have 152 youth teams coming to Statesboro to participate in baseball and softball tournaments," she said. "In addition, we will host 255 adult tournament teams. Mill Creek will be busy throughout the summer and into the Fall with tournaments. We have ten more scheduled this year than last."
    Zeigler said her division will employ 76 young people to work this summer in the areas of athletic camps and summer day camps.
    "Right now we have over 3,000 children registered for "Our Time" summer day camps," she said. "That is about the same as last year. We have 257 registered for athletic camps. It is going to be a very busy summer."
    The SBCPRD is a public recreation department funded by the Bulloch County Commission, the City of Statesboro, and by fees and charges collected by the department. It maintains and operates eight recreation areas encompassing more than 213 acres. The department also oversees 28 buildings on these parks. Included in these parks are 38 athletic fields, 10 tennis courts, 2 swimming pools, 11 outdoor basketball courts, walking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds and picnic pavilions.
    "I really believe that our recreation and parks department serves as an economic development tool," said Jan Tankersley, a Bulloch County county commissioner and the president of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. "Just look at the award that was recently given by Georgia Trend Magazine to Bulloch County. It was based on our recreational facilities."
    Bulloch County was recognized with a County of Excellence Award by Georgia Trend in its March 2009 issue for its construction and operation of Splash in the Boro. It was cited as an affordable summer diversion providing opportunities for competition and therapeutic pools that are open year-round filling a recreational need while attracting visitors to Bulloch County.
    In 2008, there were 35, 622 registrants for SBCPRD programs. "We are a very big county with a fairly sizable population," said Rollins. "It is a challenge sometimes to provide the programming that our citizens want and the facilities that are needed, but we try to do that to the best of our ability, and I am very proud of our staff."
    Rollins said over the next several years there are plans to renovate some of the older parks, and he hopes that when the economy improves, the department will be able to begin to work on some of those projects.
    "We have facilities all around the county, and some need to be updated," he said. "I hope that we will be able to do some of that before too long, we will just have to see. People are becoming much more interested in being outside as is evidenced by the number of people that come and exercise on the walk ways at Mill Creek. There is clearly a need to renovate some of our park areas to provide more of those opportunities."
    Tankersley said the perception that many visitors have of Bulloch County after they have visited here may surprise some.
    "I have heard time and time again that we are seen as a family oriented, progressive community that really cares about the families that live here," she said. "I firmly believe that a big part of that perception is our parks and recreation department, and I am very proud of it. It draws in lots and lots of visitors, provides jobs to our young people, and is a wonderful local resource. I think we are very lucky to have it."