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Willmar Parks looking for some TLC from community with new adopt-a-park program

Willmar Parks and Recreation have started a new adopt-a-park program. The goal is to bring some needed attention to all of the city’s parks, from Robbins Island to the smallest neighborhood park.

Ensley Miller, 2, smiles while playing at Canigo Park the afternoon of Thursday, April 28, 2022 in downtown Willmar.
Ensley Miller, 2, smiles while playing at Canigo Park the afternoon of Thursday, April 28, 2022, in downtown Willmar. Willmar Parks and Recreation has started a new adopt-a-park program for community members to get involved in keeping the parks looking nice for all.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — The park system in Willmar has long been a source of pride for the city. With 37 parks situated across the city, most residents are only a short walk or drive away from green space, with each park having its own character.

"Our parks are such a vital part of our city," said Rob Baumgarn, Willmar Parks and Recreation director.

Over the last several years, the city has been putting a lot of time, money and energy into updating its parks, especially the larger locations such as Robbins Island Regional Park, Rice Park, Miller Park and Swansson Field Recreational Complex.

However, there are several smaller neighborhood parks that also need love and care, and Willmar Parks and Rec are hoping residents will offer it.

Owen Martini, 10 months, smiles while swinging at Canigo Park in downtown Willmar on Thursday, April 28, 2022.
Owen Martini, 10 months, smiles while swinging at Canigo Park in downtown Willmar on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Willmar has 37 parks across the city, many of them small neighborhood parks nestled amongst homes.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

This spring will mark the inaugural season of the brand new Willmar Adopt-a-Park program. Community members will have the chance to care for their favorite neighborhood park in partnership with Willmar Parks and Rec.

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"It will help our community grow as far as the beautification aspect of it," Baumgarn said.

All 37 parks will be open for potential adoption. Baumgarn said the volunteers aren't being asked to do any major construction or maintenance. Instead, Baumgarn is looking for assistance in picking up trash, weeding, keeping an eye on the parks, recommending possible upgrades and perhaps doing some light improvements such as sprucing up or adding flower beds.

"I would love to see more color in our parks, and you get that through flowers," Baumgarn said. "If your parks look nice, everything looks nice."

With so many parks, not to mention responsibilities at other city facilities, it can be difficult for city staff to stay on top of everything. The Adopt-a-Park program will hopefully help with that.

"It makes our parks better and keeps an eye on them, because we can't be out there always," Baumgarn said. "It is having some eyes and ears out there."

William Saunders, 4, digs for buried treasure while playing at Canigo Park on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in downtown Willmar.
William Saunders, 4, digs for buried treasure while playing at Canigo Park on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in downtown Willmar. The new adopt-a-park program will bring some need love and care to many of Willmar's parks, while helping city staff plan for the parks' future.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Baumgarn said it was actually community members and businesses who first asked if the city even had an adopt-a-park program. While, decades back, there might have been some sort of unofficial scheme, there doesn't look to have been anything official.

With Park and Recreation board support, Baumgarn began creating a program that could offer the community a chance to volunteer in the upkeep of the parks. The new Willmar Adopt-A-Park program received official approval from the City Council at its April 18 meeting.

"It is two-fold — our parks get cleaned and people are doing some sort of physical activity. It gets them out," Baumgarn said.

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Mackenzie Runia, 2, climbs on a piece of playground equipment at Canigo Park on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Willmar.
Mackenzie Runia, 2, climbs on a piece of playground equipment at Canigo Park on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Willmar. Neighborhood parks can be the heart of a community.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Those interested in adopting a park will need to come to the Parks and Recreation offices at the Willmar Civic Center to fill out an application. Staff will look over the application and meet with the interested individual, group, church or business.

"We'll start developing a game plan," Baumgarn said.

All parks will be open for adoption. Places like Robbins Island and Swansson Field will probably be split into different sections, because of their larger sizes. However, even the smallest and out-of-the-way parks could use a friend.

"I really think this could be a thing for churches, youth groups, local businesses," Baumgarn said.

Approved adopters will be expected to carry out their duties, such as spring cleaning, trash pick up and the like, for the entire season, running from April 1 to Oct. 31 on a one- to two-year commitment. There will be a signed agreement between the adopter and the city, laying out the responsibilities and expectations, so each party knows what the other is and should be doing.

"It takes a dedicated group to do something like this," Baumgarn said.

Any park improvements, such as new flower beds or painting a park shelter, will require Parks and Rec approval. Parks and Rec will also be on hand to help with supplies and assistance if needed.

"Park beautification is a huge thing," Baumgarn said.

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Kai Wolter, 1, from right, Mackenzie Runia, 2, and William Saunders, 4, play at Canigo Park on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Willmar.
Kai Wolter, 1, from right, Mackenzie Runia, 2, and William Saunders, 4, play at Canigo Park on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Willmar.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Parks and Rec will recognize the individuals and groups who do sign on to adopt a park with a sign at their specific park, thanking those community members for the work they are putting into their park.

"I think it could catch fire, if some people start to do it," Baumgarn said. "If they want to give back to the community, this is a good way to do it."

The hope of the new program is for all of Willmar's parks to get some attention. The city continues to plan for improvements at its parks, such as new playground equipment or pickleball courts. The adopters will be able to do the little, but important things, to keep the parks in good shape. Even the smallest neighborhood park can be a wonderful amenity for the neighborhood that surrounds it.

"It is going to be pride for them, to have that park in their neighborhood," Baumgarn said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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