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Thursday, May 5, 2016

For the love of parks

Monday, March 16, 2009

Friends of the Park board members (from left) Joan Davis, Jan Firebaugh and Lynn Wilson were busy this week going over plans for the Upcoming EggFest in the Park After Dark.

It was 1995 when a group of woman began looking for a place to take their small children to play. They were the roots of an organization that today has grown into a strong non-profit umbrella organization that sponsors events, promotes local parks and helps organize people and plans to improve parks and trails of all sizes and types.

They are the Friends of the Park Association of Putnam County.

Under the umbrella of this organization is a plethora of projects and events that help improve the lives of all those living in Putnam County. They are responsible, through their 501 charitable organization, for the support of the People Pathways, July Celebrate 4, building the Emerald Palace Playground and the Skate Park, sponsoring the Teen EggFest After Dark and the future development of Mary Rogers Field Park.

"We were really just looking for a park like the one in Brazil to take our kids to. We didn't realize then what would grow out of that desire," said Joan Davis, one of the founders of the Friends organization.

Their first project was a castle in the playground at Robe-Ann Park. Their success with this inspired others in the community to contribute to the park and to complete projects -- large and small -- that benefit the entire community.

"If someone has a project, we try to help," said board member Jan Firebaugh. "Because we have a 501 organization, we can help groups that might not be able to get that certification on their own."

They recruit and organize human resources. They identify and prioritize the immediate and long-range plans for parks. They raise awareness about the value of parks to the community and its residents. They are the base of a tree with limbs that grow all over the county.

"The heartbeat of any community is its parks and trail systems. The Friends are here for every park and trail in this community," said Firebaugh.

In 2007, the Putnam County Community Foundation awarded Friends of the Park of Putnam County with a $2,500 matching grant to build an endowment to $7,500.

Establishing a strong endowment allows the Friends to provide for ongoing maintenance of completed projects as well as to establish seed money for future programs and projects.

"You won't believe how expensive it is to maintain and repair playground equipment," smiled Lynn Wilson, treasurer of the group.

"The endowment is a wonderful way to ensure that the projects citizens have worked so hard on through the years will continue to be sustained for future generations of children and youth in the county," said Wilson. "We don't take funds out of the endowment unless it's absolutely necessary. It's our growth fund."

One of their latest projects was to fund the demolition and rebuilding of a shelter in Robe-Ann Park. They provided the funds to take down the old shelter and to supply whatever was necessary to build the new shelter.

The shelter is being built by Area 30 students, who are discovering the importance of contributing to their community.

This castle was the first project completed by the Friends of the Park, which was founded in 1995 by a group of citizens dedicated to improving the recreational options in the area. In the background are the towers from the Emerald Palace playground that the group later completed.
"The timing was right to bring the Friends together with Area 30. I emailed Donny Watson, building trades instructor, to see if he would build the shelter for the park. He was looking for a project and got approval to do it," explained Firebaugh.

"We couldn't have done it without their help. It's so good for (the students) to understand they are part of community service. They are going to come back one day and tell their kids they helped build this shelter," she said.

The shelter will be completed in time for another of the Friends' projects -- EggFest, a nighttime egg hunt for teens on Friday, April 3 in Robe-Ann Park.

They will be stuffing over 5,000 eggs for this event. All those stuffing will be volunteers. Anyone wishing to help with donations or stuffing can email Wilson at cwilson1@tds.net for details.

An easily recognized project under the group's umbrella is the People Pathways project of building walking and riding trails around the county.

"None of these things would have ever happened without this little umbrella. And if it weren't for all the volunteer advocates -- I can't imagine anything running without the help of volunteers," added Firebaugh.

The limbs of their organization are intertwined with people and groups of all kinds. They stretch from the parks departments to master gardeners to the city and county to the schools.

To quote Firebaugh: "The possibilities are endless."

Anyone who would like to volunteer, join the Friends of the Park or donate to their endowment can contact the Friends of the Park Association of Putnam County, Inc. P.O. Box 464, Greencastle, IN 46135.

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