In Hernando County, time to step up to the plate for parks

Those of us who use county parks will have to pitch in more to keep them open.

This means new — and reasonable — fees for bike riders on the Suncoast Trail and boaters who use county ramps to get to lakes and the Withlacoochee River.

It also means:

• Members of a Hill 'n Dale church, not county workers, will open and shut park gates on Hernando's east side.

• Keys to Stewy's Skate Park in Spring Hill have been handed over to a community skateboarding group.

• Horseback riders will help maintain trails at Lake Townsend Regional Park near Istachatta.

• And to keep up the fields at Ernie Weaver Youth Park near Brooksville, the Hernando Youth League will have to donate $25,000, either in cash or in services provided by licensed pros, to mow, seed and fertilize.

Relying on this kind of volunteer labor can work out just fine. Mountain bikers, horse riders and hikers have maintained the trails at the Withlacoochee State Forest for years. Brooksville old-timers like to recall the days when we didn't expect so much from the government and the city was smaller and more neighborly and there was no problem getting parents to line or even resod fields.

They took pride in helping out and, because of it, even more pride in their children's teams.

The good part about volunteering: You give more, you get more. The bad part is we're turning over the care of a significant part of our park system to people whose pay can't be docked, who can't be fired. They don't have to do the job right or even show up.

And, I suspect from my time volunteering with the city of Brooksville, some of them won't.

In June, I decided I had complained enough that the Jerome Brown Community Center was hardly ever used as intended, for Brooksville's kids, and decided to do something about it.

I got the city to agree to open it Sunday afternoons for teenage basketball. I planned to supervise it myself for a few weeks while I enlisted a few volunteers to lighten the load. All I needed was a dozen or even a half-dozen people, and the commitment would be almost nothing: Show up one Sunday every couple of months, open the gym, make sure the kids play fair and that even the smaller, younger ones get on the floor.

I've asked parents, aunts and uncles to help. I've asked city employees. I've reached out to sports leagues and community groups. And so far a grand total of two people have come forward: longtime HYL basketball coach Howard Williams and Hernando County sheriff's Deputy Tom Harris.

Neither of them can do it this Sunday, when I'll be busy helping with the Brooksville Cycling Classic, and so, probably, we'll have to call it off for a week. And unless I hear from somebody who knows a little about the game and can pass the city's background check for volunteers, the 20 to 25 teens who usually play ball on Sundays will instead be sitting around or, maybe, outside finding trouble.

If this sounds like a guilt trip, it is. And if it worked, my number is (352) 754-6116.

But I need to warn you: Some of the kids aren't especially appreciative or respectful. And when I get especially frustrated, when I find myself having to argue with the back-talkers or picking candy wrappers off the floor, this is what I tell myself:

I can always just quit.

In Hernando County, time to step up to the plate for parks 10/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 13, 2011 8:44pm]

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