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Hope for parks and rec


New director looks to rescue programs



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New Independence Township Parks and Recreation Director Ken Elwert tours downtown Clarkston with Clarkston Retailers’ Group member Peggy Roth, meeting with business owners and residents. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
January 12, 2011 - According to Ken Elwert, Independence Township's new parks and recreation director, Fourth of July and other special events have a chance at life.

"I think the difficult thing is figuring out what's really important – the core value for our community and our department," he said. "I've heard from quite a few residents already in my first three days here."

He's looking for partnerships with community groups for some, while scaling back others. Elwert said there is also a little "wiggle room" in the budget.

"For instance, I'm not going to be taking healthcare from here because my wife has healthcare, so we can bring some of that money back to help out with some of this too," he said. "It's very clear we won't be able to restore all of it to the level residents are used to."

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His hands are tied to some extent, and he understands the future is going to be tougher.

"In fairness to the board, communities are struggling with this all over the state," he said. "It's going to get more difficult in the next couple years at the government level. There is no doubt about that."

Elwert will present proposals for Deer Lake Beach to Township Board, Jan. 18.

"Some of this is really a policy call and some of it isn't. Deer Lake has a very different situation than the special event situation and statewide most beaches don't have lifeguards anymore," he said. "That's just a fact. I don't have a dog in the fight one way or the other."

Insurance companies tell them they're better off without lifeguards, which is why the state pulled lifeguards 10-15 years ago, he said.

Elwert said the department, especially the recreation side, has an "excellent reputation statewide" and he doesn't want to do anything to "diminish that with the community."

"It's a draw to this community I think," he said. "I'd love to see it back the way it is, but I don't have the answer yet on day three."

Elwert said his first full-time staff meeting next week will include talk about their core mission. In the meantime he has been meeting with staff members individually for about 30-60 minutes to get a feel for where they're at.

"In all the interviews I have done so far, the one common theme is everyone here puts in 110 percent – they value the services we provide for the community," he said. "There is something about the recreation field that does that."

He credits Recreation Supervisor Kelly Hyer for "managing to keep everything together" in between directors.

Elwert lives in Lapeer along with his wife Amy. They are now "empty nesters," as their son Kaleb is studying at Michigan Tech. He got both his Bachelor's and Master's degree in parks and recreation from Michigan State University. He has been in the field about 13 years.

Prior to coming to Independence Township, he was parks and rec. director of Lapeer County. Experience before that includes City of East Lansing recreation coordinator/ aquatics coordinator, MSU extension, recreation planning for Roscommon County, and park ranger for U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in North Dakota. While doing his graduate work, he helped the Clinton-Huron Metropolitan Authority with surveying their master plan.

Ken said he welcomes input from residents.

"The more opinions we get, the better, both at the board level and talking to me."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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