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Taking care of Fort Dodge

Parks, Recreation and Forestry maintains variety of properties

-Submitted photo
City parks, such as the Loomis playground is just one of several playgrounds the Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry department tends to.

The answer to the question of what the Fort Dodge Parks Recreation and Forestry department does, could best be answered by asking what don’t they do?

“To describe what Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry is that we have a little bit of something for everyone,” said Lori Branderhorst Parks, Recreation and Forestry director

Branderhorst said the department’s mission is, “to enrich the lives of all Fort Dodge citizens by providing parkland, open spaces and wholesome recreational opportunities.”

This mission is accomplished, Branderhorst said through either organized activities or passive recreation activities.

“In our world passive recreation are things that don’t have a fee attached, such as our parks, trails, disc golf courses, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts,” she said. “Then we have the other ones that are programmable areas which are going to be the areas like the golf course, ball parks and swimming pools. Really, when we sit and think about who we are, and what we are to a community, it is really about adding value to our citizens that live in our community through wellness and quality of life.”

-Submitted photo
Oakland Cemetery is one of the two cemeteries the Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry department is in charge of caring for. The cemetery walk is one of the programs the department helps to put on.

The Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry department, which is located in the Citizens Central Building offers a wide array of services – more than what Branderhorst expects the majority of the citizens of Fort Dodge and Webster County realize.

“A misconception would probably be is just how much we really do take care of? We have two cemeteries we care for; we also have all of the trails – which includes water trails, hard surfaced trails, mountain bike trails – some that have just been put in the last few years and some of them are our best kept secrets,” she said.

The bigger entities cared for by the Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry department include Lakeside Municipal Golf Course, Rosedale Rapids Aquatic Center and the Harlan Rogers Sports Complex.

“Those are our big beasts,” said Branderhorst. “Those are some of our facilities that really contribute a lot to the region. They are money generators, but we are a lot bigger than that.”

Those facilities also are bigger tourism draws to the community and county due to partnerships, Branderhorst said with local high school districts and Iowa Central Community College – bringing state softball and state, regional and national cross country meets.

-Submitted photo
The bandshell at Oleson Park in Fort Dodge is an iconic structure for the city and just another example of what the Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department is in charge of caring for.

Another misunderstanding surrounding the Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry department are their programs.

“Another misconception is that everything costs something,” she said. “We have everything from free programs up to the golf memberships. We really have something hopefully for everybody in the community.”

Many of the projects and programs through the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, Branderhorst said are collaborative projects.

“We are proud to be a part of a strong city and county team that brings new developments and new improvements to our community,” she said. “It’s a team. Our quality of life has grown just tremendously in the last 10 to 15 years because of these wonderful partnerships with the city and county and their different departments.”

And don’t forget the forestry part of the Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.

-Submitted photo
Phinney Trail is one of the several miles of trails the Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry department maintains.

“We take care of all of the trees in the city’s right-of-way – that is all us,” Branderhorst said. “We also are in charge of the streetscape – those flowers and plants. We have a big department and we cover a lot of what you see everyday driving around.”

Programming challenges

“Just like most everybody in our world right now, we have really had to change what we do and how we provide services because of COVID,” Branderhorst said. “We had to figure out how to keep our community engaged and how to keep them active.”

At the beginning of the rise of the pandemic, Branderhorst said the department’s team sat down and reevaluated what they could offer for services.

“We came up with monthly and weekly activities. We got creative as a staff looking for fun things to do,” she said. “The nice thing about our group is we are diversified. One is a runner – she likes doing those virtual 5ks, training, exercise. Another one loves doing programs with arts and crafts.”

Together, the department came up with a new set of programs as well as a new way to present them.

“Individuals were home. Families were home and we are trying to engage people into activities that is something new – for both physical and mental health,” Branderhorst said. “Sometimes people just don’t know what to do, where to go and how to do it, so we wanted to provide some fun things they could do. Some have zero cost. Some have a minimal cost.”

Branderhorst said the department has been hosting virtual events and other fun programs such as scavenger hunts.

“That was kind of meeting our checkbox of getting families outside and being active and doing that safely,” she said.

Some of these program changes – doing them virtually at your own convenience, Branderhorst said will most likely continue after COVID.

“Not always can somebody come to a gym at 5:30 a.m. and workout, or go to a gym at 7 p.m. or and have a basketball game, or a class, but they can get the stuff we have and do it anytime at their own schedule. Those are new angles we have taken on – to give something they can do that their own time allows,” she said.

Some virtual activities on the horizon include the “Snow Cold Virtual 5k.” Race dates are Jan. 29-31. Times are to be submitted by Feb. 1. Branderhorst said this 5K can be done on a treadmill, outside utilizing the trail system or in your own backyard. Cost is $20 which includes a long-sleeved t-shirt.

“You can run or walk – just challenge yourself to a virtual 5k,” she said.

Another program is centered around five to seven year olds. This is a craft program that will be done virtually by ZOOM and will be held Feb. 2, 9, 16 and 23.

Branderhorst said the entire staff all brings something to the table.

“Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry works to find something for everyone and of all ages, whether it is swimming, golfing, craft, arts,” she said. “I have seen a lot of programs come and go and a lot of them come from the interest each of our staff has. It is fun to have a diversified set of staff because with a diverse set of staff, comes a diverse set of programs.”

Branderhorst said this new way of programming has been very well received.

“Response has been good,” she said. “I love watching the Facebook posts and the comments coming to our site thanking us. Those things are very warm and endearing and satisfying.”

Moving forward

Branderhorst is hopeful in-person programming will be able to resume, soon.

“We kind of feel now, we are getting a little below that 15% positivity rate for COVID, that is kind of our line that we talk about getting together or not getting together,” she said. “Our hope is we are going to be launching a few more activities that are limited, but in person. Whether that is exercise or crafts – we want to start getting us back together.”

Branderhorst said the Fort Dodge Parks, Recreation and Forestry department can be contacted via their Facebook page, the city’s website, or by phone.

“We are happy to visit with anybody and let them know how we can better serve their needs in the community,” she said.

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