Recreation wins awards for new dog park and virtual programming initiatives

Traditionally, in-person services are the bread and butter of city recreation offerings, but the COVID-19 pandemic has required the department to think differently about how they can still meet the needs of the residents they serve. For their efforts, Richfield’s Recreation Services Department won two Minnesota Recreation and Park Association (MRPA) awards.

“The winning of the two MRPA awards is just another validation of all the creativity and hard work our recreation staff has shown throughout the pandemic,” beamed city manager Katie Rodriguez. “Residents of all ages have told me that the recreation offerings have been lifelines in many ways for them.” 

The department earned its first award by offering an extensive virtual programming slate of activities that included everything from city-wide scavenger hunts to exercise videos to do-it-yourself crafts.

The city’s virtual recreation programming initiative had four goals: create safe and accessible programming that keeps participants both mentally and physically engaged, be both inclusive and equitable for all who wish to participate, use internal staff to help keep costs minimal, and help foster a sense of community.

“The recreation team did a quick pivot in providing high-quality recreational programming to the community when COVID-19 made regular programming unsafe to offer,” remembered Recreation Services Director Amy Markle. “They did an outstanding job establishing something quite special that not only brought physical and mental engagement to over a million people, but it also brought joy and continued to create a sense of community that was and is needed during this challenging time.”

The virtual recreation program was financially supported by in-kind donations, awarded grant monies, and budgeted funds. Many of the program partners volunteered their time and supplies to help put together virtual segments. For example, Chef Thao Pham bought numerous food recipe supplies for his cooking programs. Richfield Public School teachers and University of Minnesota Extension Services also contributed time and supplies.

The most-viewed programming included live animal shows, puppet shows, storytimes, guided hikes, science classes, athletic drills, bird-banding and global cooking segments.

Based on available data, the department estimates that between self-guided, in-person programming and virtual offerings more than 1.2 million people participated in some form of recreation programming since the pandemic started.

“To be honest, we never attempted anything of this scope and scale before, so we did not know what to expect in terms of participation or feedback,” said recreation supervisor Ann Jindra. “Everyone in the Recreation Services Department is just so happy we were able to provide residents with a new form of programming they could take advantage of and that they enjoyed.”

The second MRPA award went to Richfield’s first off-leash dog park, which opened to residents on November 5, 2020, within the confines of Roosevelt Park, 7644 4th Avenue.

The project received an MRPA award because it showcased best practices in park facility planning through its selection of a strategic location, well-researched design, collaborative approach with both internal and external partners, cost-effective implementation and use of community involvement.

“The dog park had been a longstanding desire for many in our community,” stated Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez. “Now each time I drive by Roosevelt Park, at least one or two dogs and their owners are out enjoying the facility.”

Park amenities include grooming stations, fire hydrants, waste stations, picnic tables and separate spaces for both large and small dogs. Residents can also purchase a memorial plaque for their pet to be mounted along the fence at the park, as part of the Pet Dedication Program.

“Residents benefit from having an accessible dog park, centrally located for them to exercise and socialize their dogs,” explained Lisa Rudolph, former chair of the Community Service Commission. “Our dogs also benefit from the opportunity for increased activity, stimulation, and interaction with other dogs and people.”  

The dog park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is fully enclosed. Parking for the dog park can be accessed off of 77th Street East.

All dogs using the park will be required to be licensed with the City of Richfield and will need to display their license tag at all times. Licenses can be purchased at the Richfield Municipal Center during regular business hours.