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Willamalane offers unique fitness and arts classes to busy students

There aren’t many places that offer classes about the art of henna, tai chi and woodworking all under the same roof, but Lane County has a nationally renowned community department that does. The Willamalane Park and Recreation District recently won the 2016 National Gold Medal Award for best parks and recreation department, presented by the National Recreation and Park Association.

The award designates Willamalane as the best park and recreation agency in the country for communities of its size.

“We’re frankly still beaming with pride,” said Bill Kunerth, the public affairs manager for Willamalane.

With this award comes a reflection on the constant support of the people surrounding the organization. “This isn’t Willamalane’s award; this is the community’s award,” said Kunerth. “Without their support we wouldn’t be able to offer these types of opportunities.”

Willamalane is the parks and recreation district for Springfield. It maintains more than 1,500 acres of natural land, along with five thriving recreation centers. In 1944, citizens voted to establish Willamalane as a distinct tax district and a place for people of all ages to connect, learn and exercise. Unfortunately, many University of Oregon students may have never heard of this organization and miss out on the numerous opportunities it has to offer.

Kunerth said that “a lot of students are already utilizing our resources and just don’t know it.” One such resource is Dorris Ranch, a park and operating farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “It’s really right in the backyard of the University of Oregon,” said Kunerth.

Besides holding community events year round, Dorris Ranch has beautiful biking and walking paths open to the public. With 43 other parks in the area, Willamalane offers students myriad places to escape the stress of school and find the calm of nature.

Kunerth also reports that Willamalane is constantly expanding. The organization recently acquired Thurston Hills Natural Area. This 650-acre plot of land sits on the outskirts of several subdivisions in Springfield and will open up a whole new set of outdoor opportunities, including the creation of several mountain biking trails.

“This area has a tremendous amount of potential for outdoor recreation and education,” said Kunerth, who hopes to get some UO students or clubs involved with shaping the new area. The Thurston Hills Natural Area is set to publicly open by next summer.

While the outdoor activities are numerous, Willamalane is also known for its indoor classes and lectures. Several buildings, including the Adult Activity Center and the Willamalane Center for Sports and Recreation, offer fitness classes year-round. Some class options include yoga, cycling, tribal fusion belly dancing and rock climbing on a floor-to-ceiling climbing wall.

“We offer a lot of affordable programs that take place during the evenings and weekends that can fit into busy schedules,” said Kunerth.


Willamalane staff members accept the 2016 Gold Medal award at the National Recreation and Park Association’s Annual Conference in St. Louis, MO. (Photo Courtesy of Willamalane News Release

Aside from fitness, Willamalane also provides creative classes and informational lectures. On Oct. 22, it will host a workshop to create realistic zombie makeup, as well as a lecture about the best ways for millennials to be financially successful on Nov. 15. Classes are generally either a flat fee at the beginning of the session or can be paid on a class-by-class basis. Some events, such as the workshop for millennials, are free.

“It’s not just your run of the mill programs,” said Kunerth. “We have so many diverse offerings.”

Kunerth is optimistic that the NRPA award will allow Willamalane to continue serving the needs of Lane County for decades to come. “We take great pride in making a positive impact in people’s lives,” said Kunerth.

Willamalane is ideal for students looking for a place to try something new and unique. With so many arts, fitness and informational classes, there is always something happening that fits into a busy college student’s schedule.

“I’m just amazed every single day about all of the resources that Willamalane has to offer for this community,” said Kunerth. “There are so many opportunities for students to take advantage of.”

Watch a video created by Willamalane about the diverse offerings the program provides below:

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Leanne Harloff

Leanne Harloff