Enjoying quality of life

........................................................................................................................................................................................

When it comes to the quality of life in a community, recreation is one category often cited in surveys around the country.

Valencia County’s two biggest municipalities are striving to make sure county residents have a good quality of life in that regard.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: THE DANIEL FERNANDEZ RECREATION CENTER in Los Lunas is one of the hubs for recreational services in the village of Los Lunas. The center also has a park and athletic field nearby that is used by groups ranging from YAFL and adult touch football to the village’s adult softball league.

The city of Belen’s recreation activities are centered at Eagle Park, which includes the Belen Community Center as well as a playground, playing fields, a skate park and a pair of softball fields.

Recreation Director Brenda Gurule said the community center at Eagle Park, which opened in 2004 and added a gymnasium in 2007, is a hub since the old community center on Main Street in Belen closed.

“We have a good variety of programs here,” Gurule said. “Most nights, the gym is pretty full, but we get a lot of usage during the day. Weekends are pretty busy too, with the rentals we do.”

Until recently, the center had to provide much of its services through the help of volunteers, primarily from non-profits like Goodwill and Youth Development Inc.

But in the last year and a half, Gurule said she was able to hire one full-time employee to help manage the center as well as a part-time person to work on weekends.

Among the offerings at the Belen Community Center are Zumba and yoga classes, which are run by instructors in partnership with the city’s recreation department, as well as open gym for basketball and volleyball and the well-apportioned weight room.

While most of the classes and activities at the center are managed by instructors themselves — not the city — popular offerings such as pickle ball (an indoor combination of tennis and badminton) and the summer and winter basketball program are managed by the city, as is the summer recreation program for youth.

“Because of our limited funding, we do a lot of partnerships,” Gurule said. “And we bring in instructors. With them we have a contract and they have to check for availability because there are times when the gym is poppin’ every day of the week.”

Instructors and organizations must have proof of insurance and a business license to have classes. A low rental rate is required and instructors must do their own advertising.

“Doing it this way puts them in the driver’s seat,” Gurule said. “Our rent is reasonable, because we still want things to be affordable for the pubic.”

Outside the center, organizations like the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) and Young America Football League (YAFL) use the fields near the center, while club and adult softball teams use the softball fields. Even the skate park gets modest usage, said Gurule.

While the summer programs have seen a drop in participation in recent years, something Gurule said she and her staff are working to improve, the youth basketball program is running strong, bringing in between 125 and 200 participants per session.

Funding for the center itself comes from the city’ recreation fund, while staff salaries come directly from the city.

Rentals, which range from use of the gym by schools like Belen’s Calvary Church Academy to baby showers and birthday parties on weekends, account for 75 percent of the center’s operations budget. That budget pays for things such as power, water and sewer service.

Gurule said usage of the center and surrounding fields is relatively high. August and September are a little slow compared to the rest of the year, she said, but, for the most part, she and her staff and volunteers are kept busy.

“At night, it’s busy,” said Gurule. “We could offer more in the morning, in terms of fitness classes. The usage is seasonal. Things like AARP tax prep do pretty well.”

Gurule said she is also looking to more events, and to plan more for teens at the center.

“We’d like to do more for teenagers but they’re a rough group to program for,” she said. “The All-American event seemed to get a lot of different age groups. We’re planning to do more stuff like that. Overall, we’re doing really well with what we have. Of course, we’d always like to do more.”

In the county’s other large municipality, Los Lunas, things are similarly hectic, though recreation services in the village are more varied.

With two recreation centers and 17 parks exceeding 15 acres, including the Los Lunas Sportsplex just south of the new Transportation Center, Michael Jaramillo, the village’s director of community services, said the effort to keep the village’s recreation activities going “takes quite a bit.”

“We don’t have as much manpower as people think,” Jaramillo said, noting the village employs five people for park maintenance, three full-time recreation staff and three full-time staffers for the new Open Space division.

“We partner with a lot of groups to run our programs,” Jaramillo said. “But it works well.”

In addition to programs at the Daniel Fernandez Recreation Center and Fred Luna Multi-Generational Center, the village also does upkeep on the fields, skate park and basketball courts at Heritage Park, the fields at the Enchantment Little League complex and the fields at the Los Lunas Sportsplex, as well as the park and softball field at Daniel Fernandez Memorial Park and the Badlands BMX park and Paintball Park.

The village partners with groups such as the Badlands BMX group and Enchantment Little League, which run the organizational end of their programs while the village handles maintenance and helps the groups on track with finances.

“The groups we work with absolutely need to be fiscally responsible,” Jaramillo said. “We provide maintenance — mowing grass, painting lines, etc. The trade-off is that these organizations keep their fees affordable and manage the leagues themselves.

“We’re professionals in park management, so it makes sense for us to do that and allow them to manage their leagues.”

As in Belen, much of the funding for centers themselves comes from rental fees, said Jaramillo, although he said the costs covered are closer to 50 percent.

Like the Belen Community Center and its parks, the Daniel Fernandez Recreation Center is available for rentals of all kinds, as is Daniel Fernandez Park.

AYSO and YAFL pay nominal fees to rent out Heritage Park and the Sportsplex. But the village also sponsors an adult softball league and flag football, as well as works with youth basketball organizers and other youth programs.

The village works with the Valencia County Older Americans program to provide recreation at the Fred Luna Multi-Generational Center such as billiards, exercise, bingo and line dancing — programs that are also offered by the county at senior centers in Belen, Bosque Farms, Meadow Like and Rio Communities.

The village also hosts the Bust-A-Move dance program out of the Daniel Fernandez Center while the Paintball park, next to the Sportplex, only opens when it has a reservation these days. Jaramillo said the village would like to eventually return to regular operational hours.

The latest recreational addition under the village’s supervision is the Open Space area at El Cerro de Los Lunas, just west of the village, across Interstate 25.

Jaramillo invites residents to explore the new trails, which will be ready for the grand opening of the space on Saturday, Oct. 12.

The Open Space will allow the village to expand its existing Outdoor Adventure program, as well as offering something to outdoor enthusiasts.

“Not everybody plays baseball or basketball,” he said. “But there’s a lot of people out who love biking and hiking and that’s what the Open Space is geared toward.”

The addition of the Open Space will bite a bit into the Parks and Recreation’s overall $1.3 million budget.

Jaramillo said the village’s recreation fund, in the vicinity of $78,000, covers mostly operational costs (as is the case in Belen). The recreation fund is largely funded by the village’s agreements to rent space for communication towers on city property at either end of the village, which provides a steady, stable source of funding.

Jaramillo said excess funds from events, such as a recent three-on-three basketball tournament, also go back into the recreation fund.

“We have a lot going on, however there’s still more for us to do,” said Jaramillo.

Among the things Jaramillo said the village is working on is making the community more bike friendly, to encourage more people to be able to bike and walk safely in the village.

To that end, Jaramillo said the village is improving all intersections to make them more bike and pedestrian friendly.

The Recreation Department is also working to develop a new youth tennis program, as well as looking into funding for a new swimming facility, a batting cage and a tennis facility sometime in the future.

“It just takes time and money and we don’t have much of either,” joked Jaramillo. “We’re exploring a lot of opportunities.”

North of Los Lunas, the village of Bosque Farms and town of Peralta partner to provide a summer recreation program for youngsters at the Bosque Farms Community Center, according to Bosque Farms Village Administrator Gayle Jones, as well as maintaining the fields used by the Yucca Little League.

The program, which Jones said “provides an outlet for kids to play,” offers sports such as volleyball and basketball and mostly provides activities for participating children.

“It’s very popular,” said Jones. “We get between 20 to 30 kids every year.”

The limited funding for the summer program comes directly from the village’s operating budget.

Jones said the village has no plans to add more recreation programs, but it is open to looking into additional programs should funding becomes available.