116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION - Seth Staashelm became Marion's interim parks and recreation director Aug. 1, just nine days before the city was walloped by forceful winds as a derecho swept through Linn County.
Soon, Staashelm will no longer have 'interim” in front of his title.
Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said he plans on sending a contract to the City Council in early April to appoint Staashelm as the permanent parks and rec director.
'We knew he was going to be well rounded in this role,” Pluckhahn said. 'We wanted to give him a chance to see how he performed in the role. He had to immediately go into emergency mode after the derecho, so it's been good to see how he handles day-to-day operations.”
Staashelm said he's always loved to be around parks and recreation, even in high school, when he worked basketball camps.
'I've always been a big kid at heart,” he said. 'I love playgrounds and designing them. I love working with the kids and helping communities. It's awesome to see the development of youth through programs, and it's awesome to just see people enjoying our parks. That's what it's all about for me.”
Staashelm, 30, is from northwest Missouri and has been with Marion since March 2019, when he was hired as deputy director. He came to Marion from Atlantic, a town of about 7,000, where he served as parks and rec director.
Additionally, Staashelm and his wife just had twins in February.
'That's why I'm so calloused over,” he joked. 'Between COVID, the derecho and two babies.”
Marion lost 2,648 trees in derecho
The former deputy director said working through the obstacles of the pandemic and derecho is a lot like his days working at a local pool, where surprises can occur from time to time.
'It's no different from a turd in a pool,” he said. 'You just got to deal with it.”
Now, 'dealing with it” means a lot of stump removal and tree replanting over the next few years, while also balancing new projects the parks department has planned.
During a City Council presentation earlier this month, City Arborist Mike Cimprich said that as of December, Marion had lost 41.5 percent of its 6,382 public trees. The replacement cost of the 2,648 trees is $397,000.
There also were 2,648 stumps yet to be removed as of March 16, according to Cimprich. Stump removal is not reimbursable from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the estimated cost to remove all the stumps is $254,208.
Staashelm said his department, along with Trees Forever, will work on replanting in Hanna Park and along Eighth Avenue early this spring as well as giving 200 to 300 free trees to neighborhoods in need.
As more trees become available, the department will continue to replant in right of way areas and parks.
'The majority of the trees are native so we can help our ecosystem,” he said. 'In the past six months, we've lost a lot of birds. We hope they come back as we plant more.”
Moving ahead with park upgrades, recreation programs
Aside from replanting, some parks also will receive upgrades this year.
Staashelm said Hanna Park will get more upgrades and equipment on its current fitness trail. The park also will have an upgraded and repaved basketball court as well as a mini soccer pitch. Those projects are planned to begin in April or May.
'That's our heaviest hit park,” Staashelm said. 'You can probably count on one hand how many trees are left there. It will be really exciting to bring something new to that neighborhood.”
Additionally, the department is going to start the development process to construct Prairie Hill Park, which will be along 29th Avenue and 50th Street.
'There will be a playground, a shelter, a small trail system within the park, a ball field and a basketball court,” Staashelm said. 'We will work on that over the next two (to) three years.”
The department also is planning on reopening its programs with pandemic protocols in place.
'Baseball and softball are taking place this year. We have soccer coming up, track, tee ball, and we will have fall flag football, as well as swimming lessons in May/June,” Staashelm said.
Along with swimming lessons, the plan is to open the Marion Pool this year. It was closed last year because of the pandemic, and Staashelm said there likely will be protocols in place this year to mitigate COVID-19 concerns.
'We're playing that by ear right now as the vaccine is rolled out,” he said. 'We've been keeping up with what other communities are doing as well. We will definitely have more info as we get closer to opening.”
The Marion Pool season typically starts Memorial Day weekend and ends Labor Day weekend.
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