Letter from the Executive Director
"Parks and protected public lands are proven to improve water quality, protect groundwater, prevent flooding, improve the quality of the air we breathe, provide vegetative buffers to development, produce habitat for wildlife, and provide a place for children and families to connect with nature and recreate outdoors together."
Why Parks and Recreation are Essential Public Services, National Recreation and Park Association
Putting FY 2020-2021 under the microscope, there is only one lens the year can be viewed through to see it in full focus. It is the COVID-19 lens. There is not anywhere in our community or organization that has not been significantly impacted as a result of COVID-19. It has ravaged our community medically, socially, and economically. When looking through that lens, what really stands out to me is the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission (ICRC) team pushing, striving, and working to continue doing great things for our community.
One of the many effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the mental stress and rise of anxiety that has plagued our community. To help combat that, the maintenance team pushed through a shortage in staff and resources to make sure individuals and families had beautiful parks and facilities to enjoy. A proven way to improve mental health and wellness is by having aesthetically pleasing parks and trails to visit on a regular basis. Through physical exercise and a beautiful setting, the ICRC team has helped countless people find peace in one of the most stressful times in our communitiesâ history. I cannot thank them enough for all their efforts.
Although our industry thrives on gathering people together, we were largely held in check because of the pandemic. However, there were some shining successes! Holiday Lights on the River set a record for the most vehicles in a single season. We could not offer any of our normal activities like the tube slide and train rides, but the show was fantastic! In addition, outdoor recreational activities across the district thrived. We havenât ever seen that level of participation in a single year. Also, ICRC staff successfully conducted socially distant outdoor movies, Easter Egg Hunts, and Halloween events, and the Saluda Shoals Foundation hosted one of its more successful Shucking on the Shoals Oyster Roast fundraisers. As a team, we are very proud of these events held in a time when success was hard to come by.
The economic crunch of the COVID-19 pandemic is still having some lasting effects on the agency. ICRC is in a much better position financially than it was a year ago, but we are still cautious. The fiscal year budget is one of our most valuable tools; it is the road map for everything we do, and the framework for how we manage our operational engine. During the first half of the fiscal year, the budget, our plan, was largely unworkable and operational levels from week to week were almost impossible to predict. Following the second Covid-19 wave in January 2021, staff could begin to see the road ahead more clearly. That little bit of solid footing gave them the confidence to draft a new budget and plan. In March 2021, the Commission adopted that amended budget, and the agency began the slow process of recovering and moving forward. This may sound small to some, but to the team, this meant they could understand their roles, set goals for the months to come, and begin to see the impact their activities were having on the agency in its entirety. ICRC staff had no blueprint on how to operate in a pandemic, but we figured it outâ¦together. Navigating this past fiscal year was challenging, to say the least, and Iâm thankful for everyoneâs flexibility and willingness to do whatever was necessary for the success of the agency.
Throughout this letter, Iâve chosen to focus on some positives that came out of the challenges we faced this past year. However, I donât want this to be misleading. The FY 2020-2021 year was full of discouraging and difficult moments. Staff was forced to deal with tough challenges on a daily basis. They proved to be strong and resilient. In the face of adversity, they focused on the outcome and not the process. And when things got really tough, they leaned on each other for support and got through it together. I am SO PROUD of them and what theyâve accomplished.
Mark A. Smyers
Executive Director, Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission