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‘Circuit Rider’ Could Broaden Area’s Healthy Play

'Circuit Rider' Could Broaden Area's Healthy Play

Children play during a soccer game at Lower Pottsgrove’s Gerald Richards Park, in this Post file photo

SANATOGA PA – When it comes to recreational fun – and, more importantly, creating conditions under which local residents can become more active and healthier – Lower Pottsgrove and five other municipalities that are members of the Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Planning Committee seem to be one step closer in bringing on a new regional recreation coordinator.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, with assistance from the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, earlier this year committed to spend more than $250,000 through 2018 to hire what is called a “circuit rider.” The traveling expert would help coordinate regional recreational resources, plan events that involve multiple municipalities, and offer technical help to groups like the township Parks and Recreation Board.

Committee representatives, including township Manager Ed Wagner, expect to interview candidates for the job within weeks, he recently told the Board of Commissioners. The deadline to accept applications for the position, which pays $65,000 annually plus benefits, passed last Friday (May 23, 2014).

Benefiting from the circuit rider’s talents, in addition to Lower Pottsgrove, will be Douglass, Upper Pottsgrove, and West Pottsgrove townships and Pottstown borough in Montgomery County, and North Coventry township in Chester County. New Hanover and East Coventry townships also are on the committee but decided to opt out of the program.

Much of the appeal to the state in providing the bulk of funding for the circuit rider’s work, foundation Executive Director David Kraybill explained in February (2014), is the high level of cooperation between the municipalities involved, according to a report in The (Pottstown PA) Mercury newspaper. Each is trusting the others to do their share in making the program successful, he indicated.

Each is also paying gradually increasing amounts, capped at $5,000 a year by the fourth year, to ensure the program has sufficient financial backing to accomplish its goals. The foundation is picking up the cost of office space and health benefits. Collectively, committee members noted, they’re hoping the circuit rider will:

  • Promote existing parks and recreation programs, and coordinate scheduling major events to avoid overlap;
  • Coordinate the efficient use of existing facilities like playing fields and courts to prevent duplication while involving more individuals and youth sports groups;
  • Work to link existing trail systems (Lower Pottsgrove maintains several that might be extended to connect to others in adjacent townships and Pottstown borough) and develop new ones;
  • Help attract public and private partnerships, volunteer efforts, and fund-raising to grow the program; and
  • Write grants and seek outside funds. That work stands to benefit from municipal cooperation, too.

Establishing the circuit rider position comes at what appears to be a crucial time.

For starters, it fulfills a need the foundation identified four years ago in a study that showed better coordination of regional recreation could get more people involved in exercise and healthy activities at a lower overall cost per participant.

Locally, it also meets the goals of Lower Pottsgrove commissioners, who during the past three years have regularly talked about ensuring more youth groups that involve township residents have access to its parks.

And it could help address a controversy that arose earlier this month over Pottsgrove School District funding of the Pottsgrove Recreation Board. District administrators had proposed eliminating the schools’ $20,000 contribution to the board, which also receives funding from the three Pottsgrove townships, as a way to trim the district budget. School directors have deferred acting on that cut.

The board offers and manages a variety of recreational programs that benefit district families, particularly during the summer. The circuit rider might review those offerings and incorporate them into a broader schedule that attracts more family participation over longer periods, further justifying the expense of all contributors.

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