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Winter wonderland

St. Paul takes SI Sportstown Honors for the Land of 10,000 Lakes

By Andrew Schulman

Click for larger image  

As one half pf Minnesota’s Twin Cities, the St. Paul is used to sharing the spotlight. But, when it comes to parks and recreation, the state’s capital has no equal.

While St. Paul may be best known for its annual Winter Carnival, the city’s Division of Parks and Recreation provides a wide variety of activities throughout the year and maintains a multitude of facilities for its residents. The Division’s Office of Municipal Athletics serves more than 1,500 organized teams and well over 20,000 participants annually.

To expand its offerings and engage even more citizens, the Division partners with a host of youth sports organizations, local school districts as well as many of the local professional sports teams. While the Division provides the base and organizes many of the recreational leagues in mainstream sports, it partner groups offer the more competitive programs and some non-traditional activities, including cross country skiing, bowling, curling, rowing and circus arts.

“We’re extremely proud of the wide range of programming that we’re able to offer all the residents of St. Paul,” said Bob Bierscheid, the Division’s director. “And much of it would not be possible without our many great partners.”

In addition to its group and league activities, the Division facilitates a variety of self-directed recreation and hosts a number of special events throughout the year –- and that includes taking advantage of St. Paul’s northern climate.

“St. Paulites are hearty individuals. Even though it can get extremely cold here in the winter, they’ll say, 'Let’s go out and have fun,’” said Debra Holtkamp, director of the Municipal Athletic Office. “They’re very adept at making do with what we have here, and it’s our challenge to give them as many opportunities as possible –- even during the dead of winter!"

To that end, Holtkamp’s office organizes an annual “softball on ice” tournament that has become extremely popular, recently attracting more than 100 single-sex and co-ed teams. The Division also hosts the annual Hmong Sports Festival, the largest sporting event in the nation for people of Laotian decent, drawing more than 50,000 visitors for volleyball, soccer, kato and tops tournaments.

Clearly, the common themes running through all of the Division’s activities are diversity and innovation. And living up to that reputation means not resting on its laurels, but constantly looking for new opportunities to involve its residents.

“In 2004, we’re organizing several major events and programs to keep our momentum going,” said Randy Kelly, St. Paul’s Mayor. “From the 2004 Star of the North Games and the new St. Paul Inline Marathon to the United Soccer Leagues’ Minnesota Thunder and our Community Fitness Initiative, we’ll be looking to engage our citizens like never before.”

With its variety of offerings and commitment to improving the lives of its residents, St. Paul has grabbed the sports and recreation spotlight and truly earned its title of Sports Illustrated Sportstown.


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