COVINGTON, Ky. — It doesn’t have its own irreverent TV show, but what’s known as Parks & Rec in the City of Covington has a lot of friends.
Offering everything from a splash park to an end-of-summer “dog swim” to arts and crafts to a mountain bike trail near a haunted old incinerator, the city’s 40 different parks, playgrounds, and facilities attract a myriad of users, volunteers, and supporters.
With a new leader and a comprehensive plan for the future reaching its final stages, Parks & Rec now has a formal way for supporters to channel financial donations toward improving the city’s attractions.
The city and Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky – a regional non-profit established as a community foundation in 2017 – have partnered to create the Covington Parks Fund.
“We are incredibly excited by this venture because it creates a vehicle for the community to directly have a hand in the upgrading and revamping of the parks system,” said Covington Parks & Rec Manager Ben Oldiges. “This has been something that the public has inquired about for a while now. We will use these funds to beautify, reenergize, and upgrade our parks.”
Horizon Community Funds President Nancy Grayson said the organization was thrilled to use its expertise and experience on behalf of the city’s green spaces and community areas.
“This is another exciting partnership for us,” Grayson said. “From Hands Pike Park to Riverfront Commons, this is a great chance for donors to make an impact that they can watch take shape across a community. The City of Covington has a great sense of what its individual neighborhoods need, and their investment in recreational space shows their strong commitment to their residents.”
The Covington Board of Commissioners approved an agreement with Horizon Community Funds on July 21 through which the organization would hold and manage (i.e. invest) any donations until the time they’re allocated.
The organization oversees at least 15 such funds for agencies such as the Boone County Animal Shelter and the Boone and Campbell County Conservancies.
Covington Neighborhood Services Director Ken Smith, whose department oversees Parks & Rec, said the arrangement creates accountability.
“It gives confidence to the donor that the money is professionally managed and used in the way that they want,” Smith said.
He described a number of different scenarios in which donations – which are tax-deductible – could be solicited and targeted: As an individual’s donation for a specific project or use, such as a dog park or street hockey “arena” … as a collective fund-raising campaign dedicated toward an activity or facility … as an unrestricted donation toward operating expenses … or as a gift from a third-party organization or foundation.
In recent years, Parks & Rec has partnered with organizations such as Make Goebel Great, Old Seminary Square, the Devou Park Trail Collective, The Devou Good Foundation, and the Covington Street Hockey League to fund improvements in Covington.
Likewise, Horizon Community Funds has been active in the city, for example giving a grant that funded the colorful mural-like painting of George Stone (basketball) Court in Annie Hargraves Park. On a practical level, the Parks Fund managed by Horizon Community Funds would likely handle large donations, while smaller donations would likely be sent directly to the similar existing Fund for Covington managed by the City, Smith said.
He said the new fund represents a solution to a problem experience around the country; that is, during a period of austere budgets, local parks and recreational activities often give way to public safety needs, infrastructure projects, and job creation.
“Our comprehensive plan itself acknowledges that in tight financial times, the City won’t always have the money to provide the level of recreational opportunities for which Covington has long been known,” Smith said. “Fortunately, we have many people who donate sweat equity, time, and money to things in which they’re interested.”
Oldiges, an experienced recreation professional whose first day as a manager in Covington was Oct. 9, said he’s already received multiple inquiries from community members about how they could “give back” to the parks and recreation division.
“People just really love what we do, and they’re vested in it,” he said. “That’s a huge benefit.”