If you've taken a walk in any of our 87 parks recently, ridden your bike along the Rivergreenway or maybe played a game of ping pong at Promenade Park, I bet that part of your day was a little more peaceful and fun than the rest. It was good for your mental and physical health, too, according to more and more scientific studies.
At the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department, we don't need studies to tell us that our beautiful parks make our citizens happier; we see it on their faces. And it's reinforced year after year through positive feedback and consistent 90% or better customer service approval ratings. We take our mission to be stewards of our parklands very seriously.
This year, there was a lot of focus on our newest gem, Promenade Park, but we shouldn't overlook the success of the second part of our mission – providing positive opportunities for leisure time.
We're happy to report that in 2019 more than 1 million people have participated in our programs or visited one of our facilities, including the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Foellinger Theatre, Salomon Farm Park, McMillen Park Community Center, the Community Center downtown, our youth centers and our golf courses. And an additional 35,000 people attended our Promenade Park Grand Opening Celebration.
Our Fun Times brochures, distributed four times per year, featured hundreds of free and low-cost activities for people of all ages, such as concerts, special events, fitness and learning opportunities. Our high-quality summer camps were well attended, as well as the classes in our facilities, which provided enriching experiences for all who participated. We're always striving to create new programs to ensure there's something fun to do in Fort Wayne.
But it's often the everyday programs that produce the most significant results. This summer we taught more than 1,000 children how to swim, golf or play tennis for free in the annual Lifetime Sports Academy at McMillen Park. Our food service team served more than 70,000 free, nutritious meals to children in our community who may not have consistent access to food. The Community Center's Unwind Your Mind program provided arts, music or social activities to more than 80 people with early dementia to help keep their minds active.
Most afternoons, uniformed, off-duty police officers spend time with children in our three youth centers, playing games, helping with homework, talking about safety and, most importantly, listening to the children's concerns. These partner officers, much like the resource officers in our schools, have become regular fixtures and trusted friends our young people know they can call if they find themselves in a difficult situation. And six times this year, in partnership with the FWPD and Fort Wayne United, we held Community Unity events to engage parents in community safety forums.
Maintaining and continuing to enhance more than 2,800 acres of pristine, award-winning park land and providing more than 1,500 engaging activities a year requires a lot of planning and hard work from the department's dedicated staff, and would not be possible without the support of Mayor Tom Henry, City Council, the Board of Park Commissioners and the citizens of this community.
With the recent passage of the city's 2020 budget, citizens can look forward to several coming Parks and Recreation projects. To complement the new Botanical Connector, we are eagerly anticipating the addition of the new “Metavine” sculpture in front of the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory. You may have heard about the efforts to make some much-needed improvements to Foster Park No. 3 Pavilion, including renovation of the interior and exterior, along with a new terrace and sidewalks; we hope to be able to begin that work in 2020 as well. In addition, we have plans to make improvements to the kitchen and sidewalks at the Kettler Pavilion, to expand Memorial Park's trails, add shade structures, seating and fencing at North Side and McMillen pools, and much more.
I invite you to try a new activity. You can find plenty of choices at fortwayneparks.org. Or stroll through a park you've never been to. I bet you'll feel like smiling by the time you leave.
Steve McDaniel is director of Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation.