WALKER -- A message on the white board in the recreation director’s office is blunt: “Stop talking to Traci. Go home.”
Traci Westmoreland doesn’t mind talking about recreation and what the City of Walker offers. But any discussion comes while she fills out forms, answers phone texts and greets anyone walking through the door.
“We want to see as many people as possible here,” both children and adults, taking advantage of what the city parks offer, she said.
“Our park has looked as good as it has looked since I’ve been in Walker,” Chief of Operations Jamie Etheridge told the City Council at a recent meeting.
Westmoreland’s staff for Sidney Hutchinson Park consists of one maintenance worker and two groundskeepers who mow, weed, trim fertilize and water the fields and trees.
High school students working part-time serve as umpires and scorekeepers.
Finance Director Mike Cotton said the city has budgeted $483,650 for the 2019-20 fiscal year for recreation – salaries, insurance, supplies and maintenance.
Sidney Hutchison Park covers 60 acres featuring ball fields, soccer fields, a walking trail, playground, dog park and pond. Westmoreland said every effort is made to make the facilities available to the public.
Schools taking field trips come to the park to eat lunch and let children use the playground. Walker High holds cross country meets and a home-schooled team, CHEF, uses one of the fields for softball.
The state Department of Wildlife & Fisheries sponsors an annual fishing tournament at the park pond. A Fourth of July celebration and Santa in the Park are other annual events.
Westmoreland began as a volunteer 20 years ago when her daughter played softball.
It was 15 years ago when she became the recreation director. Her daughter — Hali Fletcher — also moved on to a high school and college softball career that has led her to now coach the Walker High softball team.
Traci Westmoreland finds herself at the heart of the sports programs, overseeing registration, drafting teams, creating practice schedules, ordering uniforms and creating the game schedule.
“We are all for the kids, keeping them busy in the park and off the streets,” she said.
Westmoreland said when she was growing up, baseball and softball did not start until school ended and summer arrived.
Today, parents want the leagues starting sooner so they can go on vacation, avoid the heat and be involved in other activities, she said.
Green space is the highest use of land in Livingston Parish, and it's not close.
This is why the baseball and softball programs are divided into two sessions, she said.
The session wrapping up is for 9-year-olds and up. T-ball and coach’s pitch for younger age groups will begin at the end of May and play through June. Ten high school students worked the first session and 15 will be needed for the second session.
A total of 600 children registered for baseball and softball, Westmoreland said, with 120 alone in the T-ball boys division for 5- and 6-year-olds.
In the fall, 300 register for basketball.
Soccer also arrives in the fall, with FC Galaxy helping the recreation department.
“FC Galaxy had no place to play and Walker didn’t have soccer,” Westmoreland said, so a deal was reached to allow it to use the fields and in return, it cuts the grass, keeps the fields clean and children have access to another sport.
Four ball fields are in use, with Challenger Field for special-needs children, while three more fields are being built, she said.
And more is coming to Sidney Hutchinson Park.
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Fall baseball is coming, with teams being registered instead of individual players, with tournaments being considered.
Flag football returns for its second season after drawing enough children for eight teams, she said. Being studied is a Tiny Tyke program for 3- to 4-year-olds.
The Safe House under construction in the southeast corner of the park for first-responders will include a gym, which will be available for basketball and possibly a summer camp for children, she said.
Kickball may be added to Challenger Field, and the city is looking to add a playground near it for special-needs children.
“People see things being done,” Westmoreland said about the support for the recreation department. “We want to be here for anyone.”