Last week we wrote about Friends of Recreation, a community group formed a half a century ago by local residents who were actively seeking to enhance the recreational activities offered here in Watertown.

The stemwinder for this group, also known as F.O.R., was the late Jerry Flynn, who was president of the old Bank of Watertown, later the Marshall & Illsey Bank of Watertown and today the Watertown location for BMO Harris Bank.

Jerry and a group of civic leaders made a big push for expanding our recreational offerings, and for the most part they were right on target but probably a bit ahead of the curve because their dream never got the traction they wanted and hoped to have.

Still, it's now 50 some years later and there has been tremendous progress on the recreational front as we mentioned in last week's column.

Today we'll take a look back at what was proposed to the Watertown Common Council by the F.O.R. group and you can compare that late 1960s plan with where we are today.

Here's the vision F.O.R. was pushing for when it went before the council.

First of all, they felt a 120-acre site was needed. The estimate back then was for the land to cost $2,000 an acre and site development $160,000 for total site cost of $400,000. On the site would be a 42,000-square-foot building at $20 a square foot for a total of $840,000. The cost of equipment in the building was estimated at $200,000, and an indoor pool cost at $400,000.

In addition to the pool, the facility would include a multipurpose room with a stage at one end, locker rooms, sauna, game rooms, wrestling and apparatus room, exercise room, handball and squash courts, meeting rooms for class instruction for the likes of dancing lessons, baton lessons, etc.; administrative offices, arts and crafts room, equipment storage room, training room, lounge and snack bar, archery and rifle room, therapy room, kitchen facilities, restrooms, nursery with adjacent exterior play yard, music listening area, photography area and total handicap accessibility.

A robust outdoor program was also proposed.

It included a golf course, lighted tennis courts, volleyball courts and softball fields; hiking trails, bicycle trails, nature trail with arboretum, skiing trails, toboggan slide, snowmobile runs, parking areas for cars, buses and bicycles, lighted horseshoe courts, picnic area, tot park area, rough camping area, outdoor archery target range, quiet activities patio, game fields for touch football, soccer, field hockey, etc.; toilet and wash room facilities, motorized vehicle test area, horseback riding trails, and other activities as well.

The organizing committee also said the cost to amortize this ambitious project would be about $144,875 annually, using a 5 percent interest rate, and the impact would be about $2 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Where would this facility be located?

Well, the committee said there are a number of good options for land of this size and they are within the city limits.

The committee focused on the south or southwest portion of the city. Back then that part of the city had little new development and there were some large parcels available.

One that came to mind at the time, no doubt, was the large parcel along Milford Street which was part of the farm operated by what was then known at Bethesda Lutheran Home and today is known as Bethesda Lutheran Communities.

That is some precious land and would have made a perfect location for a recreation facility of this magnitude.

One of the major points of the F.O.R. group was that all of these activities should be consolidated into a single location, and while some of the ideas were duplication of what was already available, they cited the need to keep all the existing activities but use this new facility for additional programs.

Today Riverside Park is the crown jewel of our outdoor recreation program but is now sharing that distinction with Brandt/Quirk Park on the city's northwest side. That relatively new park incorporated a number of the recreational opportunities mentioned a half a century ago.

In addition to Jerry Flynn, the F.O.R. steering committee consisted of Mrs. Robert Miller, Weir McQuoid, Steve Schaefer, Mrs. Robert Timmermann and the Rev. Cyril Weisensel, an assistant pastor at St. Henry Catholic Church.

So, that's the story of a vision for recreational activities that was advanced a half a century ago, and in the ensuing years much has been done to fulfill some of those dreams.

And, who knows, maybe the work this group did to enlighten and educate the community in general about the importance of recreational facilities was the catalyst for all that has been done since that time.

Watertown today also has a YMCA and many of these ideas from years ago fit in nicely with the mission of the YMCA.


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