THE SCHOOLS of Manchester have thriving athletic programs in many sports, but they are not the only organization that promotes physical welfare in the community. The Manchester Parks and Recreation Department aims to provide affordable quality programs and facilities to all individuals and families in the community, and it does so with great effect. Part of that success is in the sheer scope of the projects directed by the department.
“We operate year-round,” said Director AJ Fox, “We have a wide variety of different programs [and] activities that we do.”
Some of those activities include swim lessons, movies, and parades, as well as everything that can be found in the department’s 69,000 square foot indoor recreation center and the 104 acres of park land. Citizens of Manchester can play on the basketball, tennis, or racquetball courts; compete on baseball or softball fields; and swim in one of the three pools that the Parks and Recreation department offers – in addition to the ninja warrior course.
“Part of the reason we’re here is to… enhance people’s quality of life,” said Assistant Director Becki Johnson. “There’s so many different needs, from age 0 to 99, that we offer for people here.”
Johnson said the membership fee for the recreation center is much cheaper than most other places because it is a community- based department.
“That’s part of our role here is to offer these opportunities, whether they want to walk on the greenway, or walk on the treadmill, or walk our indoor track – whether it’s outdoors, athletics, wellness, aquatics, you know, or just family time,” Johnson said. “Something for everybody.”
Community is an integral part of Manchester, and it is continually shown by the partnerships and volunteers that make so many projects possible. Schools and civic organizations, like the Rotary Club, have partnered with the recreation department to offer activities to the children of Manchester, as well as attract volunteers and fundraisers. While Fox said that many of the larger community events went away during COVID-19, they are slowly coming back. There are several new events in the works as well, including a highly-anticipated farmers market.
Another large part of the recreation department’s success is the care of the people who work in it. Fox, who has been a part of the department for 13 years, said that job titles don’t mean much.
“We do everything from janitor, to lifeguard, to working concessions,” Fox said. “I mean, we all just pitch in and do it all together.”
Johnson, who has 30 years of experience in the field despite only joining the Manchester department just over a year ago, said recreation has always been an integral part of her life, from growing up in local parks to learning to be a lifeguard. Fox started his career by volunteering in the Manchester Parks and Recreation Department and hasn’t been able to leave for long.
“I also went into this field because I knew I wanted to make an impact in children’s lives,” Fox said. “We do off-site trips when we can, to state parks and taking kids… to Six Flags, and some of them have never even been out of the city – and you know, it’s because of us that they get to do those things.” GN