What a difference a year makes.
On a recent day, kids were cruising their bikes around the Mercer Island Community and Event Center parking lot, weaving through orange cones and improving their skills during the Pedalheads Bike Camp.
At this time last summer, that parking lot was empty. No sounds of laughter or humming of tires on the asphalt were present. It was the height of the pandemic and all Island camps were canceled.
With the city’s recreation reset plan now in full swing, the Parks and Recreation Department is offering a plethora of activities, including Stroum Jewish Community Center day camps, TGA Premier Sports tennis and golf camps, Seattle Adventure Sports kayaking, Play-Well TEKnologies LEGO camps, Challenger Soccer Camp, Nature Vision and Cartooniversity art camp.
City recreation and operations manager Ryan Daly, his staff and camp providers have been busy this summer, and they’re thrilled and thankful to be back in action.
Daly feels his staff and the community are seizing the moment to push open the recreation doors wide and begin traversing a new path.
“There’s a reassurance of hope that you’re seeing to move forward. We were having challenges before with eliminating programs, but now we have this sort of rebirth of programming that can go forward in a really efficient way to meet the community needs,” said Daly, who was part of the COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center team last summer.
The kids have returned in droves to their familiar activities, and by Daly’s count at press time, there were more than 1,100 participants in summer camps (Pedalheads tops the list with 360 riders). When the department began taking registrations in early April, they weren’t sure how high the demand would be for camps. Daly figured maybe 750 registrations, and they’ve blown past that number.
Families are comfortable getting their kids outside to camps this summer and the contractors are spot on with health and safety protocols, Daly said. Pedalheads canceled their programs on June 28 because of the severe 100-plus-degree heat hammering the parking lot asphalt.
While discussing the kids’ eagerness to attend camps, Daly added: “They’ve actually come back even stronger at this point.”
Also on tap in the recreation realm this summer are athletic field rentals and outdoor fitness classes, pay-by-phone boat launch passes, P-patch gardening, picnic reservations and more. On the coming-soon docket are drop-in sports and gym rentals at the community center in late July, Mostly Music in the Park with three concerts at Mercerdale in late August/early September, the opening of the community center art gallery and outdoor recreation programs, with the latter two planned to happen in the fall.
Mostly Music in the Park is coordinated with the Arts Council and Daly had two of the three bands booked at press time. Arts Council members and some Island residents paired to select the bands that will hit the stage.
“That’s the first big event that we’re going to run. It’s just really exciting to look forward to, honestly, and it’s fun to work on for sure,” Daly said.
Another key element to the reset plan is community partnerships, in which the city has paired with the Youth and Family Services Foundation for the Pumpkin Walk and the Mercer Island Community Fund for Illuminate MI.
On the art gallery front, the council may schedule events to highlight some of the artists to coincide with the gallery’s reopening, Daly said.
As for the community center as a whole, it currently isn’t open to the general public, only for individuals who are registered to participate in scheduled programs like some summer camps and the upcoming drop-in sports.
“The rationale with that is, is we’re moving forward with a limited staffing model. So we’re trying to focus on those programming elements,” Daly said. “And then in 2022, you’re going to see that facility back open as normal as we can get back to.”