Affordable, Accessible Recreation in the Township of Rideau Lakes
By: Susan Dunfield, Manager of Community and Leisure Services, Township of Rideau Lakes
The Township of Rideau Lakes began its journey toward the development of a policy to address affordable, accessible recreation in March 2010 when I attended a Parks and Recreation of Ontario (PRO) workshop about the importance of access to recreation. Later that year, the Township of Rideau Lakes Council supported the formation of a Task Force to develop a policy with the following goals in mind:
- to provide accessible, affordable recreation to all citizens;
- to ensure that our infrastructure and programs are responsive to community needs; and
- to protect our parks, trails and natural spaces.
A total of 11 individuals from various community groups and associations made up the Task Force, including representation from the local churches, the library, service clubs, the health centre, agricultural societies, local recreation committees, council, Every Kid in Our Communities and municipal staff. The first meeting was held in March of 2011, where the group was introduced to PRO's Affordable Access to Recreation for Ontarians: Policy Framework. The Task Force identified a number of key considerations in developing the policy:
- Rideau Lakes covers a huge area and the main villages are miles apart. Major facilities such as arenas and pools are located in urban centers outside its borders (Smiths Falls, Brockville, Perth and Kingston).
- The average age of residents is 52. More people are retiring to the area from their urban homes.
- There is an increase in working poor, single family units and the elderly.
- Residents often commute to work outside the municipality and have little energy to volunteer or become involved.
- There are four newspapers that cover the area. It is hard to get the word out and expensive to advertise.
- Great partnerships have developed between the municipality, the local schools, health unit and library system as well as many service clubs and churches.
- A major drawback is the non-existence of public transportation.
With this in mind, a policy was created and presented to Municipal Council, the boards or governing bodies represented within the membership of the Task Force, PRO and eventually to Ontario’s Ministry of Health Promotion. The end result was a workable policy on affordable, accessible recreation that was ultimately approved by Council on February 13, 2012.
That, however, is not the end of our story. During its initial meetings, the Task Force identified a number of low and no-cost recreation options that are available to residents of Rideau Lakes, including such things as:
- cycling, trails and heritage walking tours;
- cross country skiing;
- peer programs;
- partnerships with the school board that allows free use of school facilities;
- library reading clubs;
- free special events such as Skate the Lake; and
- subsidized programs that help to cover up to 100% of the costs for some participants.
Through this discussion, another major road block was recognized: communicating the availability of these recreational opportunities. The members of the Task Force came to realize they represent a “hub” for many of these activities and have the ability to continue to work together after the policy work was complete. They are committed to seeing that the community receives this information through social networking, promotional materials, word of mouth and various community channels. While it was not an initial goal of the task force, promotion of these low and no-cost recreational opportunities to residents of Rideau Lakes has become an ongoing area of work for the group.