Ahrens/Paschall Park Celebrating 20 Years
by Todd Reding
It is easy to overlook how unique it is for a small, rural town to have the many assets Grinnell, Iowa possesses. From its strong regional hospital, to its nationally ranked and financially solid college; Grinnell sets a high standard for the quality of its citizen’s rural life.
Perhaps most significant among these many assets is the sprawling 100 acres of land on the east side of town. The Ahrens/Paschall Memorial Park will celebrate its 20 years of service this year. The park’s walking path, basketball courts, tennis courts, playgrounds, soccer fields, driving range, baseball and softball fields, picnic shelters and sand volleyball court provide recreation for thousands of visitors from all parts of the state each year.
Donated by the late Claude W. Ahrens in 1993, the land has evolved into a vital part of the community and the local economy. “The park is supported by a stand-alone foundation titled, the Ahrens Park Foundation,” says Julie Gosselink, President and CEO of the Claude W. & Dolly Ahrens Foundation and member of the park foundation’s board of directors. “Members of the board of directors are volunteers who serve as the governing body for the park’s foundation and its full-time facilities manager,” says Gosselink.
Baseball and softball tournaments are a weekend staple in the lives of many youth. The Ahrens/Paschall Memorial Park hosts tournaments throughout the season attracting more than 400 participants and nearly 2,000 spectators. “The park is a major boost to our economy,” says Angela Harrington, President and CEO of the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce. “Most participants come from outside our town, and they stay in our hotels, dine in our restaurants and shop in our stores. Because of the park, we increase our buying base substantially.”
Operations of the park require significant resources. Ongoing maintenance, upkeep of the grounds, insurance, utilities, and more, accounts for an annual budget of $445,000. “The mission of the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation is to help meet the needs of Grinnell and its neighboring communities,” says Gosselink. “We see the park as a critical part of this community.” The Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation supplements the budget of the park by contributing more than $300,000 annually. “Our supplemental funding allows the park to charge minimal fees for tournaments, use by the school district and other programs. If the park were completely reliant on those fees, the cost structure would be much different,” says Gosselink.
The northwest corner of the park has traditionally been dedicated to soccer. Each year more than 390 players take to the Pitch, and the premier field has become the home turf for the Grinnell High School varsity men’s and women’s soccer teams since 2001.
Indoor sports facilities are hard to come by even in large metropolitan areas. Thanks to the Grinnell Athletic and Recreation Center, commonly referred to as “The GARC”, locals can enjoy a multi-purpose gym with indoor basketball courts, jogging track, locker rooms, and an open lobby. In 2011, the City of Grinnell agreed to a year-round lease of the facility so that it can provide a range of community activities.
Also on park grounds is the Ahrens Family Center. This 30,000 square foot facility has 14 classrooms, a gymnasium a 20 by 35 foot swimming pool and two-fenced-in play areas. The Grinnell Community Daycare and Preschool is a separate organization that uses the space and serves more than 150 children and 35 adults.
For twenty years, the Ahrens/Paschall Memorial Park has given its patrons enormous opportunities. It has supported the activities of thousands, and serves as an irreplaceable asset to our town. “There are certainly plans to continue to support the park, but also find ways to improve it,” says Gosselink. “Being true to my grandfather’s mantra, the next 20 years will certainly be better than the first.”