Developing Steen Sports Park – A Big Park for a Small City. !

Klamath Falls, OR – “A big park for a small city” is how Scott White and Mike Reeder like to describe Steen Sports Park.

And, as activities and the need for improving and expanding offerings at the 140-acre park increase, Reeder and White are part of the team working to implement big plans at Steen while still maintaining its primary function as a community park for Klamath Basin residents.

“The vision is it becomes a community park,” explains Reeder, president of the park’s board of directors. Because he’s active with the Ella Redkey Swimming Pool, Blue Zones and Healthy Klamath, Reeder sees Steen Sports Park as another offering to provide locals a place to exercise and improve their personal health.

White, the park’s executive director, focuses on the park’s increasingly complex financial issues, emphasizing Steen is a nonprofit organization that receives no funding through city or county taxes. “There is a lot of maintenance we don’t have funding for,” he explains.

When created in 2000, park creators had ambitious goals. White and Reeder credit Dave Steen, a former Klamath Union High School teacher and coach, for launching efforts to create the park and envisioning a place for a variety of sports activities, including baseball, softball, soccer, walking, skateboarding and other outdoor activities. They also credit the Wendt family, the founders and long-time owners of Jeld-Wen, for helping to realize those initial goals with funding for various facilities and Mike’s Field House.

“It never would have happened without them,” White says with an agreeing nod from Reeder.

Steen is already a busy place that’s getting busier. It currently offers five soccer fields, seven baseball/softball diamonds, batting cages, a fitness trail, six pickleball courts, two playgrounds, a skate park, a 60,000-square foot multi-purpose fieldhouse, bathrooms, concession stands and parking.

Short- and long-term improvements include new sand volleyball courts, landscaping shades and walkway, new concessions and bathrooms at the softball field, additional trail and field lighting, expanded parking and, to handle people from outside the area staying overnight during various tournaments, an RV park.

Some of those needs became evident last summer. Youth softball and baseball teams from the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Idaho, northern Oregon, Washington and Nevada held tournaments at Steen. Reeder and White said 185 of the 193 teams in last year’s tournaments were from outside the region. Based on economic data provided by the park, that boosted the Klamath Falls-area economy by $3.47 million in induced and indirect expenditures, things like restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, motels, golf courses and other visitor-related spending.

Planned this summer are 23 tournaments that, using the same data, could generate upwards of $10 million. Earlier this month Steen hosted its third tournament of the year, one that attracted teams and parents from the Rogue Valley, Bend and northern California and resulted in so many games that some were held at Kiger Stadium.

Portions of 2020’s and this year’s income will be used to maintain, upgrade and expand offerings at Steen, not only for visitors but area residents. “Tournaments pay to use the park so that locals can continue to use it for free,” notes Reeder.

Because of positive impacts on the region’s economy, some businesses are becoming sponsors. “They’re going to put $10 million into our economy,” Reeder says of the impact from out-of-towners. “So we’re gaining support from the business community.”

The park has received local help, including a $25,000 grant in 2020 from Klamath County Tourism to improve the park’s infrastructure and to revamp, upgrade and maintain its website. Earlier, in 2018, support from Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Program, Energy Trust of Oregon and Eco Solar, a BlueSky Solar Pavilion was completed. The pavilion helps offset energy costs and provides an area for picnics and other activities.

What’s the lure of Klamath Falls?

“Most of the people love the idea it’s a big park in a small town,” says Reeder, noting Steen is close to town in a pastoral, country setting. “That’s our appeal.”

White agrees, adding, “You come here, you don’t have to wait 35 minutes for dinner at a restaurant. I think people really like staying at the park, too. They wake up and walk to the field.”

The need for an RV park became obvious last year when visitors found limited or no vacancy at Klamath Falls motels. “That was evident right away,” Reeder say of the need for overnight accommodations. An RV park is envisioned on an open area near the park’s main entrance, but no details have been worked out.

Both White and Reeder emphasize the improvements and added facilities aren’t wanted only to accommodate visitors. Both note that Steen is used by Klamath Falls-area people. Pickleball is massively popular, and the addition of sand volleyball, which Reeder says attracts younger people, is expected to lure more local recreationalists and has the possibility of generating out-of-towners. “It’s one of those sports we will expand to meet the demand.”

Handling the increased demand has resulted in hiring staff. Chris Baker was hired on contract as activities coordinator while Ricky Walker, an assistant baseball coach at Oregon Tech, begins working in June as the park manager. “Ricky is going to be a fantastic addition to our team,” White says.

White and Reeder credit Chris Baker, the park’s executive director, with leading and coordinating efforts for last years and this year’s baseball and softball tournaments. “He’s the one who really made them work and is absolutely essential to our success,” Reeder emphasizes.

White encourages increased community participation, noting, “The door is open for anyone in the community who wants to volunteer, sponsor, donate or help in any way.” 

“It’s a great story,” White says of the park’s previous and ongoing development. He credits Dave Steen, saying, “Dave had a vision. We see and recognize that vision. Dave’s legacy is important to us and the board.”

“Dave Steen started it – he had the vision,” agrees Reeder. “Our vision is it (the park) becomes a community park, a place for healthy activities.”

As envisioned, Steen Sports Park is a big-getting-bigger park in a small town.

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