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Copyright 2013 The Post Register
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Idaho Falls Post Register (Idaho)
October 16, 2013 Wednesday
Main Edition
1134 words
Not all fun and games;
Parks and Rec Department has a wide range of duties

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third story in a weekly 10-part series explaining how the city of Idaho Falls operates, from its elected officials to division heads to regular employees within each division. In this installment, we look at how the parks and recreation division operates.

Trees, shrubs and flowers.

Soccer, basketball and hockey leagues.

Snow leopards, monkeys and lions.

These things all have something in common - they all fall under the purview of the Idaho Falls Parks and Recreation division.

Last week, Parks and Recreation Director Greg A. Weitzel couldn't escape his duties even while driving away from his office.

""A lot of people aren't familiar with what we do … like all these trees (are our responsibility),"" he said as he pointed to the well-manicured trees in the median strip and along the sides of River Parkway. ""It surprises people when I tell them this is all us.""

Weitzel is too busy working with local officials to visit the division's many departments every day. He delegates authority to deputies at Tautphaus Park Zoo, the Joe Marmo/Wayne Lehto Ice Arena, the Wes Deist Aquatic Center and various athletic fields, highway off-ramps and golf courses.

Basic things taken for granted - planting flowers, picking up after the geese along the Snake River - would not happen without these people.

Maintaining the field

Brent Martin started with the city 27 years ago.

Then, he mowed athletic fields. Now, he's Parks and Cemetery superintendent.

Martin is responsible for manicuring 1,800 acres. He ensures trash is removed and sprinklers remain functional, among other things.

There is a large greenhouse at Rose Hill Cemetery where the division grows flowers. It also is where the moss was grown for the new elk topiary on Memorial Drive.

During winter, Martin's department removes snow from 26 miles of pathways and sidewalks. In addition to that, garbage must be removed from the resulting piles of snow.

""You wouldn't believe how much trash is in those,"" Martin said.

Parks and Cemetery staff members also construct fences and erect tents at the Mountain Brewers Beer Fest, Snake River Roaring Youth Jam and War Bonnet Roundup. They also set up and take down the white tent sheltering bands at Alive After Five.

""People don't realize that with any event that happens in Idaho Falls, Parks and Rec is involved 90 percent of the time,"" Martin said.

Animal attraction

A zookeeper's job often is misunderstood.

""The biggest misconception we get is we get to play with animals all day long,"" said Beth Rich, superintendent of Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho Falls.

She decides what events or educational outreach her staff should facilitate.

There were 61 classes and camps this year. Rich estimated 2,000 local students took part.

Volunteers contribute 14,120 hours each year to help keep the zoo clean and running smoothly.

With winter imminent, Rich is planning how to care for the animals in the winter. All the zoo's wildlife will stay in Idaho Falls. Some, such as the African birds, will be sheltered in a warm place. Others, such as the snow leopards, will remain outside.

The zoo remains busy even in winter. One event happening during the cold months is Christmas with the Critters, which happens Dec. 20 through Dec. 23. People will get the chance to see what the animals are doing during the winter by visiting the zoo on those days.

Once the snow is melted in spring, it generally takes four to six weeks to get the zoo ready to reopen for the regular season.

Pulling the weeds

Josh Stephens does the dirty work other people dread - he's responsible for tidying up unkempt yards for people who refuse to remove weeds.

Stephens, who works in the weed control department, said his department has received 370 phone complaints this year from residents about tall weeds.

He works to ensure no weeds taller than 10 inches appear in the city.

He has sent 296 letters telling people to do yard work. If people don't comply to letters within 15 days, three men will remove the weeds. The average bill for the service is $250.

The property owners aren't always receptive to the bills.

""There's times when people scream at you because you sent them a bill,"" he said.

The people who phone in the weed complaints often are unhappy with how long it takes for the weeds to be removed.

""The fact is we have so much to cover and people expect to get it done right away,"" he said. ""We can't always do that.""

Hitting the links

At Sage Lakes Golf Course, a woman drove a golf cart to the first hole while a man putted on the practice green.

Inside the golf shop at the desk, Gaylen Denning, the course's golf pro, talked about the biggest misconception about his job.

""They think we play golf every day,"" he said.

He paused and smiled.

""I only play a couple of times a week.""

The parks and recreation division oversees Sand Creek, Pinecrest and Sage Lakes golf courses. Close to 31,000 rounds are played at Sage Lakes during the golf season, which runs from March to November. At Sandcreek, there are about 37,000. At Pinecrest, it's close to 36,000.

A few years ago, the golf courses were a drain on the city's coffers. That's no longer the case. Weitzel helped make them profitable by convincing the City Council that the city should buy out the merchandise and golf-cart end of the business from the golf pros, who had owned and received revenue from those things prior to that, Denning said.

Denning starts work before sunrise, while his staff stays beyond sundown.

They often see the same people several times a week because pass holders can get unlimited golf at the three courses for $585 a year. Denning said it's the best value for golf in the country.

He supervises 12 employees and oversees about 14 charity events a year.

His favorite part of the job is the variety of tasks.

""One minute, I could be teaching,"" he said. ""Then I could be fixing a cart. Then I could be selling clubs.""

There is no such thing as a golfer dreading a forthcoming round.

""We have a happy job,"" he said. ""When people come here, they're happy.""

Recreation on ice

Driving the Zamboni is Paul Horsburgh's favorite part about his work at the Joe Marmo/Wayne Lehto Ice Arena in Tautphaus Park. His least favorite part is setting up the rink every year.

""Putting it up is a nightmare,"" he said. ""Taking it down is a joy.""

The rink opens at 5 a.m. daily and closes at noon. There are 300 youth hockey players and 100 adult players.

Before summer, he removes glass walls and the ice. During summer, the building is used as a picnic area.

Weitzel said that without the efforts of people like Horsburgh, Rich, Stephens and Denning, Idaho Falls wouldn't be as nice of a place to live.

""If you take care of the little things,"" he said, ""the big things will take care of themselves.""

Reporter Cody McDevitt can be reached at 542-6751.

October 16, 2013

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