The Marana Parks and Recreation Department took home three awards from the 70th annual Arizona Parks and Recreation Association state conference, thanks to an emphasis on adaptation and healthy use of community feedback.
Marana won the President’s Award and two Outstanding Program Awards, honors that the town’s recreation superintendent Corey Larriva credits to his team’s ability to be agile.
“We’re a fairly small department but we do a good job listening to our customers and paying attention to what’s going on around the community, and then looking for opportunities to provide services where services aren’t being provided,” Larriva said. “Being a small department, we’re able to make changes quicker that allow us to be as innovative as possible.”
The APRA President’s Award highlights and recognizes one member, in this case Larriva, who has provided “outstanding service and dedication to the organization and industry.” The two program awards went to Marana’s aquatics and active adults programs.
“APRA has been a pillar of connectivity and education for the state for a long time,” Larriva said. “I’ve been able to attend conferences and various networking events of theirs. Once you get in, it’s so positive you want to keep going. The energy is contagious.”
For Marana’s Parks and Rec department, the awards aren’t so much the conclusion of a job well-done, but an incentive to continue advancing as the fall season approaches. For a department so reliant on community activities and interaction, the onset of COVID-19 proved particularly challenging. This was apparent for their summer season, which is typically planned out February—only a few weeks before the pandemic took hold in the U.S.
“Summer was a very interesting season. There was a balancing act to see which programs were already planned that we could apply modifications to and still be successful,” Larriva said. “Now with fall, we’re excited because we get to do what we’re best at, which is to get creative and innovative, in order to design programs around the CDC modifications we know today… Our department is focused on the customer experience from start to finish. We believe the experience begins way before event day. It begins when you’re registering for the event. We want to make sure the information is clear so you feel confident in signing up.”
It wasn’t just CDC guidelines that helped Marana reformat their events; roundtable discussions and networking with APRA allowed the Parks and Rec team to learn about other town’s best practices for their departments. Marana Parks and Rec is now moving programing outdoors for fresh air, utilizing pre-registration tickets to control crowd size and plan specific groups, sanitizing communal areas and mandating crowds less than 50 at all times.
“There’s a lot of responsibility on us as an agency providing services to try to create safe environments. We have to take those modifications into consideration before we offer a program,” Larriva said. “It’s forcing staff to get creative, and maybe there’s some ideas we’ve never explored before that we’ll find really work. That’s maybe the upside to all of this.”
Upcoming events for September and October range from youth to senior activities, some of which have been completely reworked. Events include a youth boxing bootcamp, youth speed and agility training, and “dive-in” movies at the aquatics center—all with social distancing measures in place. Larriva also discussed community paint nights, yoga in the park, bingo and a senior walking club to promote mobility and exercise in an age group that is especially isolated these days.
“I think that’s one of the advantages we have as a department, is that Marana has some beautifully developed parklands that gives us an opportunity to put a creative spin on things and see how we can utilize them in a different way than what we traditionally did,” Larriva said.
The Parks and Rec department also relies on community feedback to continually improve their events. The surveys they send participants after events have resulted in some necessary improvements. One feedback realization resulted in the department improving signage and entertainment along the route during community races.
“We were very focused on the finish line experience and weren’t thinking about what the runner was experiencing en route,” Larriva said. “And directly from one of our surveys, we looked at ways to redirect some of our staff’s creativity to make the route fun.”
With how their events are spaced out, the Parks and Rec department usually has feedback within one week of the event ending, and are able to implement new ideas before next month’s event.
“I’m curious to see which of these programs and ideas take off,” Larriva said. “They may stick around beyond COVID. There may be some new efficiencies we’re learning and new ideas that the community responds to that we can continue outside of a pandemic and still have fun.”
In addition to CDC modifications, the public can anticipate Marana’s fall programs to take on new formats. Staff are implementing drive-through and ticketed events options, in addition to expanding the use of outdoor facilities and virtual platforms. A full list of fall programs and CDC modifications will be online Sept. 8 at maranaAZ.gov/recreation