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Santa Maria Sun / Spotlight

The following article was posted on June 21st, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 23, Issue 17

A new grant program allows Santa Maria to provide outdoor recreation opportunities

By Taylor O'Connor

Outdoor space became more important for Santa Marians when COVID-19 hit and social distancing took over, said Dennis Smitherman, the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department manager.

“If you drove by a park [in Santa Maria] and it wasn’t full, it was a bad weather day,” Smitherman said. “I think people got used to being outside and appreciated what’s available locally. Trails are great for exercise and there’s something for everyone in trails, the same with parks.” 

But it gets challenging for people to get to trails all the time; gas is expensive, not everybody has access to a car, and going hiking for the first time can be intimidating. There were once previous efforts to start carpool programs to get people outside, but they never really stuck, Smitherman said.

With new interest, the city applied for and received a state Outdoor Equity Grant for $589,000 to set up the Santa Maria Outdoor Recreation Experience: a program dedicated to providing nature education and trips to nearby Central Coast sites, he said.

“We’re excited for the new grant. It’s not tailored around trails specifically, but provides the community the opportunity to learn, exercise, and enjoy nature,” Smitherman said.

The program is part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initiative, Outdoor Access for All, which aims to increase outdoor opportunities for Californians through focused investments in open space infrastructure, outdoor programming, and improvements to permit applications—with a priority placed on expanding access in underserved communities, according Santa Maria officials.

Part of the application process included community input—which took hundreds of hours, with virtual town hall meetings and working with community partners to get surveys out to families and residents, Smitherman said. 

“The survey results showed these people have not been too far out of the city limits,” he said. “It provides opportunities to get people out in nature and have fun while they are out there.” 

The program’s “catalyst” will be at Buena Vista Park for the city to incorporate activities and programs based in nature, like learning skills and techniques people can use in the great outdoors, the different ecosystems in the area, and conservation and the importance of keeping green space, along with several trips, Smitherman explained. 

Funding is the biggest obstacle Parks and Recreation faces when it comes to providing recreational opportunities, and this grant makes a big difference for the department, he added. 

“We are working hard to raise funds—whether it’s competitive grant writing or fundraising for these projects—but funding is the biggest challenge we face. Trying to make something accessible at no or low cost can be a challenge to hinder a project if you don’t have money to continue,” Smitherman said.

Thus far, Santa Maria’s been lucky with seven capital funded projects for park revitalization and construction of new parks, but maintenance costs always remain a challenge.

“I can tell you 85 percent of the budget is staffing just to maintain our 28 parks—over 2,000 acres of park land—just to maintain the parks we had 15 years ago,” he explained. “We see rising utility costs just like the public. Our water is very expensive to keep parks green while still being considerate of the environment and restrictions, so it can definitely be a challenge.” 

But staff continue to work hard in order to maintain the parks in the system, and Smitherman is hopeful the new Santa Maria Outdoor Recreation Experience program will encourage people to enjoy the park, as well as advocate for their recreation needs. 

“Is it ever enough? That’s a great question. I think that the community enjoys the park system and we want to continue to expand, but there’s also maintenance and the cost of that as well.” Smitherman said. 

Highlights 

• The Santa Maria Public Library presents a new book club for 8- to 12-year-olds called Next Chapter Book Club, where participants will talk about the book and read the first chapter together. Free copies will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis, and no registration is required. The first book club meeting will be held in the Youth Services Altrusa Theater—421 S. McClelland St.—on June 23, at 3:30 p.m., and will feature Willodeen by Katherine Applegate. Questions may be directed to the Library’s Youth Services Division at (805) 925-0994, Ext. 8564.

• Outdoor Supply Hardware opened 14 stores throughout the Central Coast and the Bay Area in its mission to serve residents and their home improvement needs. After three years of restrictions, Outdoor Supply recently reopened its doors in Santa Maria. The grand reopening was celebrated on June 11 with giveaways and prizes. Santa Maria’s location is at 1950 S. Broadway St. Find store hours and services at outdoorsupplyhardware.com.

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at toconnor@santamariasun.com.










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