(Riverton, Wyo.) – The R Recreation program in Riverton, operated for the city by Central Wyoming College, served 5,046 people during the past year with 304 classes or activities. There were 251 days whens programs were held with a total of 373 hours of programming. Among the most popular offerings was the winter ice skating program that served some 2,000 skaters, the National Girls and Women in Sports Day in which 84 young ladies took part, a Playmakers Basketball League for fifth and six graders in a league with other communities, and the three week-long Summer Academy that had 94 classes and 1,104 participants. It was also noted that R Recreation helped get the community garden started that now has 90 plots allocated and a waiting list.
The director of the program, Mary Axthelm, presented those statistics to the Riverton Economic and Community Development Association at its Wednesday breakfast meeting at the Sundowner Station.
Axthelm said the program depends on school and college facilities and other agencies for many of its programs. “We have great partnerships with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for hunter safety programs, and the Riverton Branch Library helps us with Yoga on the Lawn and our film society screenings,” she said. “The UW Extension does a canning and food preservation class for us, and we have an outing once monthly at the CATS Museum, the Center for Arts, Technology and Science in Riverton.”
Axthelm said R Recreation acts as a clearing house to gather registrations and collect funds for such groups as Riverton Youth Soccer, USA Wrestling, Little League, Babe Ruth, Girls Fastpitch Softball, adult softball leagues, and the Junior Football League.
She said R Recreation publishes a catalog of its offerings three times a year and distributes 7,500 copies each time. She also said a majority of the registrations are now made on-line through the R Recreation web site.
“We will have this year a Lil’ Hoopers basketball Program for 3 to 4 year olds, we have an adult pickleball program that is wildly popular, we have the Walk 15 and Taijifit fitness programs, we offer an open gym, A.L.i.C.E. Active Shooter Training courses, sports photography, landlord and home buying and selling classes, infant massage, weather spotter training and medicare and medicaid trainings,”she said, “among other activities.”
While R Recreation does not have a facility itself, it uses the facilities of the local elementary, middle and high schools, including the Tonkin Activity Center and football stadium, plus the baseball fields and facilities at Central Wyoming College. “We have great partnerships with the schools,” she said.
At the conclusion of her program, the question was asked if Riverton really needed a stand alone rec center.
Axthelm said two community surveys, the latest in 2015, both indicated overwhelming support for a recreation center, but she said the respondents, some 541 people, also said they would only be willing to pay $20 a month for individuals or $35 a month for families for the use of such a center.
“I’m all for a rec center, but people pull back when it come to how to manage and pay for such a facility. How can such a facility be sustained here to make it economically feasible for everyone to participate?” she asked rhetorically.
The simple answer is that it cannot.
Tony Tolstedt, Riverton’s City Administrator, just moved here four months ago from Converse County where he was involved in development of a Douglas Recreation Center. He told the group that costs are always higher than anticipated, for utilities, for operation, maintenance and specialized staff for specialized programs. “You need qualified people to operate such a facility, so you’ll have staffing challenges, you can’t do it with all volunteers.”
Mayor Lars Baker said the Riverton school district is willing to have the city take over ownership of the Tonkin Activity Center, the buildings at the former RHS, but he said the utilities alone at that site cost $60-70,000 a year, “and it needs a new roof to the tune of $2-million.”
Former Wyoming Business Council Regional Director Roger Bower characterized the offer as “a transfer of a huge liability.”
Tolstedt said Riverton is lucky for the program it has. “We have way more opportunities than other communities that have a rec center,” he said. “There is a benefit to not having one.”
Cy Lee, a member of the Governor’s ENDOW Executive Council, echoed that comment. “Communities that have rec centers don’t offer the array of activities that are offered here,” he said. “I’ve suggested those communities visit with Mary to investigate a similar program as here.What R Recreation is doing is above and beyond what communities with rec centers do.” He also said the economics are not right for Riverton at this time to support such a center.