More than Puppy Playtime

On a sunny night after work, you’ll find Westerville residents and visitors walking their dogs up the hill on Park Meadow Road to the Brooksedge Bark Park. Wagging tails and all, excitement emanates from the dogs as they approach the gate. And if you look closely, the dogs aren’t the only ones happy to be there; the owners themselves are cracking a smile too.

For 10 years, Brooksedge Bark Park has been home to countless games of fetch, tricks and treats. To many dog park patrons, the park has become much more than just a place for their canine companions to run off some extra energy.

“There is this natural community at the dog park. It is great to see familiar faces and dogs here everyday. It is not only the dogs developing friendships, we are to,” said Diedra Meysembourg.

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Diedra Meysembourg teaching her dog Savannah tricks

Meysembourg moved to central Ohio a few months ago from Georgia with her Labrador puppy, Savannah. “Living in an apartment, I knew I needed to find a space for Savannah to exercise,” she said. “I found the Brooksedge Bark Park and never felt the need to go anywhere else.”

Savannah’s favorite playmate is two-year-old Charlie, a Great Pyrenees. Both Meysembourg and Alex Weinberg, Charlie’s owner, agree that this type of socialization is important for the dogs.

“A big part of having a dog is socialization; and the dog park gives them that opportunity. It teaches dogs how to be together and it helps them learn better behaviors. It also gives your pet the chance to feel comfortable around other people and even kids,” said Weinberg.

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Alex Weinberg playing with his dog Charlie

So while the dogs wrestle, Weinberg and Meysembourg get to share laughs, stories and training tips.

Weinberg says, “It is nice to have others like Diedra around who care about their dog and my dog. It really is a supportive environment. Just recently, I was able to find a place to board Charlie by talking with people here.”

Late this summer, Mosaic Artist Vicki Murphy experienced this welcoming community firsthand as well. She was commissioned by the Westerville Parks Foundation to design and install a mosaic near the entryway of the bark park.

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Artist Vicky Murphy putting the finishing touches on the new mosaic

“I received so many encouraging words and dog kisses throughout the creative process. Before starting my own mosaic business, I was a teacher for many years so I enjoyed being able to talk with everyone especially the kids about the project,” said Murphy. “I hope the new mosaic will stem continued conversations about the park, the people and art itself.”

During one trip to the dog park, the Iyer family learned about the inspiration for the mosaic design and first-grader Gaia even helped put a piece of stained glass on the rock.

“Gaia loves the dog park and now she has had her hand in making it more beautiful. It is another reason this park feels like part of our yard,” said Anusha Iyer, Gaia’s mother.

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Gaia Iyer with her family dog Neo

The family’s strong love of the bark park prompted Anusha’s husband, Santosh Iyer, to create an online social group for other dog parents to connect. Regulars at the dog park use the outlet to coordinate times to meet up, share photos and advice.

The Iyers, Meysembourg and Weinberg all hope to see more people explore the Bark Park and take part in this niche in the canine community.

“If you’ve thought about visiting the dog park, be confident and come check it. There is a very high chance you and your pup are going to have a lot of fun,” said Meysembourg.

As the sun sets and dog park patrons pack up and wave goodbye, there is no doubt this special part of the Parks and Recreation Department is place for both canines and people to enjoy.

To learn more about the Brooksedge Bark Park and its amenities, visit the City website here.

Parks & Facilities

A Visual Adventure

With so many fun events and programs happening in the Westerville Parks and Recreation Department, there is a lot to see and experience. And we want to give you a first-hand look at all the action. The Department is going on a new visual adventure this summer with a GoPro, a versatile video camera.

We captured some of the highlights at Party at the Creek, an annual Parks and Recreation celebration, and our first video is now up. The event served as the grand opening for the new playground at Alum Creek Park North and was filled with nature activities and entertainment for all ages.

Check out the following video, and tell us your favorite part of this year’s Party at the Creek in the comment section below. We hope you enjoy and stay tuned for more to come!

Parks & Facilities

A Hoppin’ Good Cause

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2014 Westerville Bunny Hop 5K Participants

Bunny ears, shiny medals and spring colors galore. It is no wonder the Westerville Bunny Hop 5K is one of the most vibrant races in town this time of year.

Cheery hues are not the only reason this races stands out. The motivation for many to run, walk or skip more than three miles on Saturday, April 4 is the Westerville Parks Foundation.

The Westerville Parks Foundation was founded in 2000 as a non-profit organization to assist the Parks and Recreation Department in funding projects and improvements outside the annual city operating budget.

“The Parks Foundation is a huge asset to the Parks and Recreation Department. There are elements in the community that you may come across every day that wouldn’t exist without it,” said Westerville Parks and Recreation Director Randy Auler. “The Foundation has helped bring the Train Depot, Mural on the Path and various public art installations to life in the City.”

And that is just skimming the surface of the Parks Foundation’s impact. Scholarships are awarded each year to numerous residents-in-need to supplement the cost of classes, passes or daily admissions to the Westerville Community Center.

“These scholarships are a life changer for many people. In many cases, an individual or family would not be able to participate in the wonderful programs the Community Center offers without a little extra help,” said Lisa Kluchurosky, Chair of the Westerville Parks Foundation. “Scholarship recipients get the chance to connect socially and improve their physical and mental health.”

Scholarship recipients say the same thing. Although she wishes to remain anonymous, one older adult shared her story of receiving a Foundation grant with us. She applied for aid two years ago after experiencing a drop in income.

“My doctor said I needed to walk, but I needed to do it safely. I live on a brick street in Westerville with no sidewalks,” she explained. “I’m in my seventies and use a cane, so if I fell on the bricks, it would take several strong men to lift me up off the ground.”

After accepting the scholarship, she started utilizing the Senior Center bus as transportation to the Community Center. And her walking around the track began.

“I try to go four times a week when possible and my goal is a mile. I am the slowest walker out there, and some days when I’m not feeling well I can only get a few laps in. But that is okay; something is better than nothing,” she said.

The positive environment at the facility keeps her coming back day after day.

“From the staff to fellow track users, they’ll watch me and say keep it up, you are doing a great job. That gives me more motivation to continue.”

Those encouraging words have turned into many friendships over time.

“One gentleman and his wife are there often. He speaks French and so do I. Now he brings me his French magazines when he is done reading them. Another lady loves to quilt and that is something we share when we catch up. So many people are friendly and willing to open up,” she chimed.

She has also seen an improvement in her health.

“My doctors have been thrilled with my progress. My blood pressure has gone down and my muscles are looser. Just a few weeks ago, my sisters came to town. I had not been going to the Community Center for a bit because I was afraid of falling on the ice and my left knee started hurting. They pushed me to starting walking again; and I went to the track following their visit and that knee improved. I just needed to get moving and my body responded.”

Although some days may be harder than others, she values the chance to get moving.

“The opportunity to use the track means the world to me. I thoroughly enjoy the Community Center. All the other benefits are just icing on the cake,” she said.

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Participants make their way to the start line at the 2014 Westerville Bunny Hop 5K

One of the largest fundraisers to provide scholarship opportunities to residents like this is the Bunny Hop 5K. Now in its fifth year, the Bunny Hop has truly become a community event.

“The 5K has something for everyone, from families to kids and elite runners,” said Kluchurosky. “We try to make it fun yet still competitive. When volunteering at the event last year, I was struck by how energetic and uplifting the atmosphere was. It was a little chilly that morning, but people were genuinely happy to be there and having a good time.”

“This race really goes to the heart of what parks and recreation is all about. It actively brings the community together in a friendly environment to enjoy one of our parks and the trails for a good cause,” said Auler.

To register for the upcoming Westerville Parks Foundation Bunny Hop 5K at Alum Creek Park North next Saturday, visit https://premierraces.com/westervillebunnyhop5k.

 

Parks & Facilities

The Magic of Snowflake Castle

What was that moment for you? That time when you could feel the magic of the holiday season so vividly you could almost grab it, and your heart swelled with an overwhelming sense of good in the world.

Through a child’s eyes, this is Snowflake Castle.

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Thousands of twinkling lights and festive decorations set the stage as kids approach Everal Barn and Homestead at Heritage Park during the first week of December.

“It is an event unlike any other, where kids get to be completely engulfed and interact with the exhibits, Santa and his elves,” said Westerville Senior Center Program Supervisor Christopher Shirring.

Now in it’s 30th year, Snowflake Castle is going above and beyond to create a magical experience for more than 5,000 visitors.

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One first-time visitor was three year-old Nico Biancone. This was a special day for Nico’s Grandma Cathy. Nico’s mother came to Snowflake Castle 27 years ago when she was just three years-old too.

“My daughter went to Snowflake Castle with a friend and talked about it for days. She loved it,” said Cathy Biancone. “And now so many years later, I am able to take my grandson. It is neat that this holiday tradition can be passed down to the next generation.”

Nico and his friend, Kayla Zuk, checked out the trains, gift shop and face painting before heading up to the big attraction: Santa’s Workshop.

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Little ones make and paint their own wooden toy with Santa’s elves. The new star this year was the tanker train toy.

“Where else do kids get to use power tools and hammers with Santa’s elves?” said Shirring. “They get so excited to say they actually made a toy and then get to take it home. It is a source of pride for them. I still have my toy from a similar program when I was young.”

The production of Snowflake Castle doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a considerable amount preparation and time, especially the wooden toys.

“We have a team of nine helpers that begin cutting the toys in April. It takes them about six months and 9,000 cuts to get everything ready,” said Shirring.

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As a fundraiser for the Westerville Senior Association, the event is heavily staffed by volunteers among their membership.

“This a great way to showcase the talents of our membership, and it gives them an opportunity to engage the community while having a positive impact on a new generation,” said Shirring.

Kayla even asked to come back this year to see the elves.

“She loved making the toy and still has the one she made last year,” said Kayla’s mother, Ana Zuk. “The senior volunteers are really wonderful with the kids; it is great to see them involved.”

After toys are assembled, Nico and Kayla have a chance to fully soak in Santa’s workshop, even the falling snow.

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It is now time to see the Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Kids get an inside look into the toy operation, including Santa’s sleigh as they head into the Homestead.

“The $5 ticket includes a picture with Santa and Mrs. Claus. And since some kids, even my daughter, are a little afraid of Santa, Mrs. Claus helps put them at ease,” said Shirring.

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Long after Snowflake Castle ends, the magic of this Westerville Winter Wonderland carries with many of the children who experience it.

“There are a lot of kids that believe Santa lives at Everal Barn. One of our employees’ daughter points it out everytime they drive by,” said Shirring.

Snowflake Castle is sold out this year. But you can check out the 2015 dates at the City Events Calendar here – http://goo.gl/Z0gJj9. And tell us what you think makes Snowflake Castle so special by commenting on this post!

 

Parks & Facilities

Like a Fish

As you watch Andrea Kontras glide through the water, it is apparent she is in her element. With every turn and stroke, she gains strength and momentum while swimming at the Westerville Community Center.

“My body feels better in the water, my passion is swimming,” said Andrea, 36, a Special Olympics Swimmer.

Andrea has been in the pool more than 25 years, most of it training competitively. She reached the pinnacle of her swimming career this past summer, becoming the first person from Westerville to go to the Special Olympics USA Games for swimming.

Andrea was chosen to represent Ohio after her stellar performance at the 2012 Ohio Special Olympics, where she won two gold medals.

“I was so excited to go to nationals. I even had a countdown going,” she said.

During the USA Games last June in Princeton, New Jersey, Andrea took home medals in four swimming events: Silver in the 100-yard Freestyle and the 4X25-yard Medley Relay and Bronze in the 50-yard Backstroke and 50-yard Freestyle.

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Andrea’s face lit up when she talked about the whole national experience. “It was so much fun and the medals are awesome. I feel proud that all the hard-work paid off,” she said.

Her coaches are extremely proud of her as well.

“This was such an amazing opportunity for Andrea. She got to practice at a higher level and work with different coaches in a new environment. We couldn’t be happier for her,” said Special Olympics Coach Lauren Jennings.

Since the big games, Andrea has been full speed ahead at practice. Her next competition is just around the corner, on November 1 for the Regional Aquatics Qualifier in Upper Arlington.

“Nationals really gave her confidence. Andrea came back with extra determination and focus; and she is faster now,” said Coach Jennings.

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Andrea has always been tenacious about swimming. When she was just 10-years-old she wanted to try out for the Hilliard Special Olympics Swim Team.

“You had to swim from one end of the pool to the other without touching the wall. During the competition they put me in an end lane,” she said. “I nearly drowned, doggie-paddling and everything. But I finished and got fourth place.”

From that moment on, Andrea began to develop her love for swimming. She started competing in many kinds of races, although her favorite events are the Freestyle and the Backstroke. She even set a personal record at nationals at 2:17 for the 100-yard Freestyle.

“When I’m swimming fast, I feel like fish. It keeps me strong, healthy and active,” she said.

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Andrea has put in some serious hours at the Community Center over last few months with both Parks and Recreation staff and her Special Olympics team supporting her along the way.

“Her dedication to the sport has been inspiring, and other swimmers have taken notice of Andrea in the lap pool. It is great to see all her training pay off,” said Westerville Parks and Recreation Facilities Supervisor J.R. Fourqurean.

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“I really like swimming here. I was getting in 1800 meters a week over the summer,” said Andrea.

Her dreams haven’t stopped with nationals either. The next stop: the July 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.

There is no doubt with her spirit, Andrea could go global. We wish you the best of luck in your future competitions Andrea!

For more information on Westerville Special Olympics, visit westervillespecialolympics.org

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Parks & Facilities

An Everal Love Story

Planning that big day. It’s the one dream many little girls have in common from an early age…their wedding day.

Months of preparation and excitement all culminate into a very special moment for a bride and groom. That moment came over the weekend at Everal Barn and Homestead for one of our very own, Parks and Recreation Facility Specialist Kim Sipe and her now husband Sean Stark.

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Kim began her career with Parks and Recreation in July of 2000, the same month the newly renovated Everal Barn and Homestead at Heritage Park was dedicated. This was the start of Kim’s love for the historic Westerville icon.

You can rent space from the Community Center, Everal Barn and Homestead, Highlands Park Aquatic Center, Park Shelters, the Program Center and even the Senior Center. In her role with the City, Kim is the first point of contact for most of these Parks and Recreation rentals.

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“Kim is essential to our rental operations. She receives hundreds of calls a week about rentals.  She loves talking to people about what the department has to offer,” said Parks and Recreation Facilities Operations Manager Katie Siroky.

In more than 14 years with the City, Kim has helped schedule hundreds of weddings at Everal Barn.

“No matter how many rentals there are, Kim always adds a special touch. She is passionate and super detail-oriented and it shows throughout the rental process,” said Katie.

So when it came to picking a venue for her own wedding, there was only one option in Kim’s mind: Everal Barn.

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“I grew up in Westerville and Everal is the perfect location. The grounds are beautiful, parking is great and the set-up is just what I wanted. Why would I get married anywhere else? It feels like home,” said Kim.

This sense of ownership of Everal Barn resonates through the entire staffing team.

“Everal is a unique and special place. Everyone who works at the Barn takes pride in the facility and treats it as their own. They really love and respect this location. The farmhouse and barn date back to the late 1800’s and are on the National Register of Historic Places, so they mean a lot to us and the community,” said Katie.

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Everal Barn can accommodate much more than weddings and parties. The site can host up to 150 people at a time during the week for businesses and organizations to hold meetings, team-building workshops and speakers.

“It is a great change of scenery for any type of event. The venue is affordable and flexible. You can even bring in your own food at no charge; and there is always a staff person on site to help,” said Katie.

One of the many advantages to renting Everal is the blank canvas you can use to fit your specific event needs.

“It is a prime Pinterest venue. You can do whatever your imagination allows. It is very picturesque,” said Katie.

Kim was able to add her own style and play off the rustic theme of the Barn and autumn foliage at Heritage Park for her wedding.

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“I’ve gathered so many wonderful ideas from other weddings that have taken place here and wanted to incorporate seasonal flowers and decorations,” she said. “With the leaves turning and the fall weather, it is the perfect time of year to swing open the barn doors for the ceremony.”

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On Saturday, October 11, that vision came to life. As Kim was surrounded by people she loves, a place she loves, and the man she loves, she said “I do.” A perfect example of the truly magical moments that have and will continue to take place at Everal Barn and Homestead.

Congratulations Kim and Sean!

For more information on Parks and Recreation rentals, click here or call 614-901-6515 to reach Kim (After her honeymoon, of course!)

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Parks & Facilities

Path Users Happy to Cross New Westerville B&W Bridge

Have you taken a walk, bike ride or run over the new Westerville Bike & Walkway (B&W) Bridge over County Line Road yet? More than 500 people are crossing the bridge daily, so you won’t be alone!

Some of our path users are so excited, they just can’t hide it. A group of Saturday morning runners wanted to share their appreciation for the bridge. Check out this video from Columbus Running Company.

 
And we’re excited too – the bridge officially opened August 1 giving Westerville its first pedestrian bridge over a roadway. It now provides safe passage over County Line Road for users of the B&W.
 
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This new amenity not only benefits Westerville residents, but will be utilized statewide as a part of the Ohio to Erie Trail which is planned to run from Cleveland to Cincinnati.
 
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The 106-foot, 27-ton bridge is steel-trussed and includes a wooden deck that’s expected to last 40 years with no chemical treatments. The City of Westerville received a $500,000 grant through a Clean Ohio Trail Fund grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to help build the bridge.
 

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The bridge is located on County Line Road between State Street and McCorkle Boulevard. For more information on the Westerville B&W, follow this link.

Parks & Facilities