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Steve ColtSteve Colt

Among the jewels of the Town of Lansing are its parks and its recreation department.  Steve Colt has been Lansing's Recreation Director for about 30 years, and Park Superintendent for almost that long.  The parks are gorgeous and used by thousands of people for all kinds of activities.  The vast scope of recreation programs should, in any sensible world, be impossible for a department that only has three full time employees.  Colt will leave some very big shoes to fill when he steps down from the Park and Recreation Department on July 31st.

"I commend Steve Colt for doing such a great job," says Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne. "People don't realize when they first started the Rec Department was located in the Highway Barn on a gravel floor.  Lansing has come a long way, and Steve leaves it in very good shape."

Steve ColtSteve Colt kicking off a baseball skills day at the town ballfields over a decade ago.

Colt was working at Cullen Sporting Goods when he took the helm of the town recreation program in 1987.  It was a part time job that he did when he wasn't at work at Cullen's.  He worked from his home for the first year or two, but soon moved to a tiny office under the staircase in the basement of the old town hall (now the Lansing Community Library).

"It was a tiny little closet back there.  That's where we started," Colt recalls. "Then it evolved to upstairs.  Bev French came on board -- she was the original Maureen (Parks & Recreation Clerk Maureen Muggeo).  We worked in half of the back end of the board room.  There were two or three dividers, so we sat behind the dividers, and that was the Recreation Department.  Some of the equipment was stored in the basement, some at the Community Center, and some at an old garage building in the corner of the parking lot.  When Jeannie Kirby was Supervisor the Town Board voted to make it full time, and they added the parks to the job. I was thankful to her and that board for doing that.  I left Cullen's downtown, and I've been here for 30 years."

When Colt began in 1987 there were about a dozen recreation programs per year, including the summer day camp, but most of them sports.  Today Colt says thousands of people are served if you count 'duplicates' who attend multiple programs, as well as making use of facilities like the lakefront swim area.  At least 50 programs, with 30 to 35 scheduled in the summer program alone, are now offered.  And topics have exploded beyond the traditional sports programs that continue to be very successful.

Day Camp at Myers ParkSummer Camp is one of the longest running programs the Lansing Recreation Department has, predating Steve Colt's tenure as Recreation Director

"For me that's the fun part," Colt says. "Everybody expects the sports programs, but when you can offer robotics and band camp and drama and foreign languages, and art and things like that... that's fun because you're reaching more people.  Nobody gets left out.  That's the way it should be."

Colt says the key to recreation program success is interaction with the community.  That has yielded a steady stream of volunteers.

"The volunteers that have stepped up all these years are the engine that drives this train," he says. "All the big things that we do just wouldn't happen without our moms and dads or grandparents -- whoever they are -- that step up to run a program, or coach a team of kids no matter what the sport is.  We are nothing without them.  Yes we have a system, but people buy in to that system.  It's that buy-in that is the magic behind this whole thing."
ludlowvilleparkconcert 600Ludlowville Park overlooks Ludlowville Falls, the site of several silent movie locations from long ago. The park has a gazebo, a pavilion, and a playground, and hosts a concert and the Lions Club Ice Cream Social each summer.

Colt, Muggeo, and Recreation Supervisor Patrick Tyrrell are full time employees, but with the park crew, seasonal summer workers including lifeguards, program and camp directors there are about 30 people.  And that doesn't even begin to factor in the myriad volunteers that are the heart of the recreation programs. 

"It's been a great source of local youth employment," Colt says.  "We've had some great student workers.  They've been very impressive over the years.  They may start out as a camp counselor, and we're lucky to have some of them return year after year.  We've had some unbelievable quality in our camps because people keep returning."

"Another thing I'm proud of is we're not too high, we're not too low," he continues. "We're on a steady, consistent, predictable climb.  I think that's the best thing.  We've tried to stay that was so people can plan, they know how the system works, and they can jump in and there is a model for them to follow.  We've had some really talented people, some great kids, and some great parents.  When you have that combination you're going to be very successful."

During Colt's tenure as Parks Superintendent he has overseen a lot of improvements to the town parks, and the addition of a major new one when the Town signed an agreement to manage Salt point for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Salt PointSalt Point was a mess and a crime-magnet until the Town took over its management for the DEC. 'Friends of Salt Point' volunteers work in partnership with the Town Parks and Recreation and Highway Departments to maintain Salt Point and add new features. Today it is a beautiful nature park that recently added hard surfaced walkways that are wheelchair friendly.

"Salt Point, to me, is the eco-turnaround (success story) anywhere in the area," he says. "What it was and what it is is an unbelievable transformation, all due to the volunteers that work down there.  The Salt Point Committee and our crew has done a lot of work down there.  The DEC has been helpful to us, and it's just an amazing place.  I'm proud to look back over the years as to what's happened in all our parks.  The quality seems to improve every year.  Pat is working on some projects now that are going to make for more improvements in the future."

Among features added to the parks, Colt cites new pavilions, the band stand, bathroom improvements, renting space in the park to Paddle-N-More which has brought many non-motorized boaters to Myers Park, and the historic North Log Cabin.  He credits the town Highway Department for resurfacing the town park roads and for a three year project that pretty much amounted to rebuilding the town marina on the south end of Myers Park.

"Other things will pay dividends in the future, twenty or thirty years from now," he adds. "The amount of trees that people have donated as memorials or as a family tree... it's unbelievable.  We've had a lot of people like Dennis Osika (formerly head of grounds at Cornell) is an expert who has helped us with different species of trees - what to buy, where to put them, how to prune them.  Katrina Binkewicz brings a lot of talent to the horticultural part of it down there.  I give Pat Tyrrell a lot of credit for his expertise in our turn management at the ballfields." 

"Our grass fields are some of the best our kids or adults are going to step on anywhere they play.  they were also crucial in establishing the quality of the Lansing Center Trail along with volunteers like Sue Ruoff, Deb Trumbull, Marcia Herrick -- Marcia's the one who rides that trail on a lawnmower and keeps it mowed for the most part.  The quality of that walking trail is amazing, and the amount of people that use it is staggering."

Myers Park ConcertConcerts in the Park attract crowds of more than 1,000, whose donations keep the concerts free.

Eventually Colt had an idea to try a summer concert series.  The first concert was in Pavilion F, with an audience of less than 40 people.  Colt says one reason it started to take off was scheduling it on Thursday nights, which enabled him to book quality bands who worked regularly on weekends, but were available during the week.  At this point, when weather cooperates, it is not unusual for audiences to tally a thousand or more.  The free concerts are paid for by donations at the gate.

"There is so much good local talent around here it wasn't a tough thing to come up with," he says.

Steve ColtThis picture from 2006 could have been taken any time in Steve Colt's 30 years as Recreation Director. He could always be found on the telephone arranging Rec programs, lining up coaches, encouraging parents to sign up their kids, and schmoozing with community members, coaches, and fellow recreation directors from other towns.

Colt is a long standing member of the Athletics Hall of Fame Committee and works closely with school and library officials and fellow recreation directors and coaches from other municipalities.  The number of working relationships he has forges over the years is staggering. When you walk into the Parks and Recreation Office it is common to hear his voice on the phone, or come upon him talking to a parent or a coach.

Colt says his wife Ann, who retired from her position at the United Way of Tompkins County a few years ago, has been tolerant and supportive of the many demands of his job.

"I give her a lot of credit for putting up with me, handling phone calls at home, and cutting me the slack to go to different meetings and different events on weekends," he says. "You don't realize how much time has gone by until you get to the end of the trip and look back."

Beginning in August* Tyrrell will lead the Park and Recreation Department as town officials contemplate changing the department structure.  For years the Town has been contemplating the formation of a Department of Public Works, and that discussion has heated up in recent months.  LaVigne says that and other options will be considered, but in the meantime the Town will make do with current staff.

"None of the services will be interrupted," LaVigne says. "Patrick will be in charge of that office, and he has been trained in that very well.  he does an excellent job, so it will be a smooth transition.  We will do a needs assessment in the coming months to find out what the need will be."

When asked what he will miss the most after 30 years in the job, Colt simply says, "That's easy.  The people."

* correction - an earlier version incorrectly said September

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