March 20, 2013 - Yet another feather has been added to the Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Department's plumage-filled cap.
Oxford is one of only 23 local departments in the entire state that will be highlighted as part of MI Big Green Gym, a new program focused on helping families and individuals improve their physical, spiritual and mental health by taking their workouts to the great outdoors at local and state parks.
"We're pretty proud of that," said township Parks/Rec. Director Ron Davis. "It allows us to market all of our programs and our parks across the state."
Sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association (MRPA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), MI Big Green Gym encourages residents to take advantage of the extensive network of parks and recreational opportunities in order to increase their level of physical activity and shed their unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles.
"(It will) showcase specific departments that are above-and-beyond everybody else (and promote) what we're doing," Davis told the township board. "That's what's kind of unique about our department – for as small as we are, the things that we're doing are being recognized."
"I think Oxford should be very proud of the department that they have," said MRPA Chief Operating Officer Ann Conklin
Conklin explained that Oxford and the other departments were selected for MI Big Green Gym because of their "diverse programs and facilities."
"Oxford has probably the most passionate, innovative, creative (parks) director available," she said. "He is so committed to the Oxford community and he passionately believes in what he does. He understands the difference that parks and recreation makes in a community."
Being part of MI Big Green Gym will basically provide "an added level of service" for local departments, according to Conklin.
"We're collecting information about their major events, their parks, their resources and services," she said. "We're going to (use that information to) promote them through Pure Michigan. We're going to promote them through our resources, through the DNR, through Blue Cross Blue Shield, as places for people to use to be active and healthy."
The publicity campaign will utilize everything from organization websites and social media to news releases and publications put out by Blue Cross Blue Shield.
"It gives us an opportunity highlight our events and our park facilities to try to draw people to our area," Davis said.
Oxford Township has 501 acres of park land divided into four parks. Amenities include a splash pad, playgrounds, soccer fields, baseball and softball diamonds, a sled hill, nature trails, access to lakes, picnic areas, volleyball courts and an 18-hole disc golf course.
The department offers more than 140 recreational programs throughout the year. Last year, a total of 6,102 residents and non-residents registered for its programs.
"And that doesn't include visitors to our parks," Davis said.
MI Big Green Gym is aimed at raising awareness about the health benefits currently being provided via local parks and recreational programs, which offer a wide variety of physical activities.
Physical activity, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health, is a key component in lowering body weight, which can in turn, improve both physical and mental health. For instance, a 10 percent weight loss can improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes and improve breathing and sleep.
"The end result is you have a healthier, active community through things they're already doing," Conklin said. "There's no additional money being expended by Oxford right now. We're just taking what they have and promoting it."
"When you take our department and you compare it to some of the other municipalities – whether they're cities, townships or counties – I think our residents are really fortunate (given) what we offer and what we have as far as programs and facilities," Davis said.
Conklin noted the departments have to submit all their information for MI Big Green Gym by April 1. She estimated it will probably start being distributed to the public around May 1.
Davis noted that Oxford's department isn't a one-man show with himself as the star. The department has six full-time employees and close to 100 part-time/seasonal workers, who serve as park gate guards, lifeguards, park rangers and summer camp staff.
"I think the staff here takes pride in serving our community," he said.
Davis indicated that 90 percent of the part-time/seasonal employees are teenagers.
"We're a pretty good source of employment for those kids," he said.
One of the things the parks/rec. department is very fortunate to have, in Davis' opinion, is a dedicated, voter-approved property tax to fund its operations. The 0.8538-mill tax generates approximately $500,000 for the department's budget, while user fees make up the other $600,000, according to Davis.
"We're very fortunate to have that recreation millage when a lot of communities don't," he said. "Our community is very supportive of what we do."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.