BELPRE - It's hard to find a time when someone is not using Civitan Park.
Early in the morning, folks are getting their exercise walking or jogging through the park. If the weather's nice later on, it's likely there will be children on one or both of the two playgrounds or teens and adults may be making use of the basketball courts. There are youth and high school baseball and softball games on weekday afternoons and weekends in the spring. The park draws large crowds in the spring and summer for the Relay for Life of Washington County and Belpre Homecoming. On summer evenings, Music in the Park concerts ring out, and even in winter there are often lines of cars driving through to view the city's annual Holiday Lights display.
"It's just constant," Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz said. "We're blessed that someone had the foresight to develop these (parks)."
Belpre residents Roger Perine, left, and Don Sorrell walk, as they do most every day, Tuesday morning at Belpre’s Civitan Park. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
Lorentz said he was surprised last year when he stopped by the park one weekend and found people crowded around a racetrack for radio-controlled cars, with concessions being sold nearby. He knew Speedy Bill's held races there, but was surprised to see the numbers they drew.
"It looked like a homecoming," he said.
The roughly 40-acre Civitan Park is the largest in the city, with a gazebo where concerts are held and from which the annual Easter egg hunt is launched, multiple picnic shelters and the municipal pool, which was rebuilt and reopened in 2007.
The city has also set up a recycling dumpster at the park, offering residents the option without increasing their sanitation bill. Adjacent to it on the Ohio River is the 12-acre Access Park boat ramp.
Belpre residents Roger Perine and Don Sorrell said they walk at the park for one to three miles almost every day.
"It's safe. No traffic close to you," said Sorrell, 76.
"Place is well-maintained," said Perine, 71.
Both men said they also come to the park for events like Homecoming and Music in the Park.
Until four or five years ago, Lorentz said, the city used seasonal workers to maintain its parks - Civitan, Access, Howes-Grove and Depot. But because they are used so often, a full-time employee is now assigned to them and based at Civitan year-round.
That worker's salary combined with upkeep, electricity and other expenses led the city to budget $119,891 for the park's operation this year, Lorentz said.
But the city doesn't bear all the costs for the park on its own.
Lorentz noted the volunteers with the Holiday Lights committee are responsible for some of the park being wired. The Belpre Recreation Commission and high school teams maintain the baseball and softball fields, which play host to youth and school games, in addition to tournaments for which people rent the space.
And while maintenance is regular, Lorentz said there are some projects the city is eying to make sure the park stays at its current level of quality.
"You never get done; you're always doing something," he said.
Twice, the city has pursued grants to refurbish the pond and fountain. Once, its application was denied, and the second time, the grant was awarded but never funded.
The bowl-shaped pond frequently loses water, mainly because muskrats make holes in the clay lining along the sides, Lorentz said.
"It's just beyond the point of patching," he said.
The pond needs to be drained and the sides dug out to form a box-like shape. Recently, the city was approached by someone willing to donate locking timber to place along the sides to prevent the damage from the muskrats, the mayor said.
"We'll have to do the work," he said.
Lorentz said he'd like to see that work started this year to have the pond ready for spring.
The inner drive at the park was repaved last year, but the city didn't have enough money to repave the boat ramp, so that's also on the to-do list, Lorentz said.