Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hailey honors parks advocates

Becki and Steve Keefer will be parade grand marshals

Express Staff Writer

Like many good ideas, theirs came from a mother.

Upon moving to the Woodside area in south Hailey, Steve and Becki Keefer looked around, but they saw no parks.

"There wasn't a park in Woodside and there wasn't going to be a park in Woodside," Becki said. "Here's the largest subdivision in Blaine County and no parks are planned."

It wasn't just for their young children that they wanted a grassy grove.

"My mom's choice of recreation was a picnic in the park with her family," Becki said. "I was hoping we could be successful (in getting one)."

Although Becki's mother passed away before seeing their dream come to fruition, the Keefers saw the creation of their park—and many other projects that bear their stamp.

For their decades of contributions to the community, Becki and Steve Keefer have been named this year's grand marshals of the Hailey Fourth of July parade.

"They have donated countless hours of service to the Hailey community," said Heather LaMonica Deckard, executive director of the Hailey Chamber of Commerce. "It seemed very fitting with a lot of their work culminating in the rodeo grounds. We wanted to show our appreciation for their many years of service.

"And, we just love them."

The news came as a surprise to the couple.

"We are both very, very honored," Becki said.

The Keefers, who moved to Hailey in 1983, quickly immersed themselves in the community.

"Steve and I started to find out what we could do to get a park," Becki said. "From there, it took off like crazy."

The pair organized the Woodside Park Committee to explore the idea of having a park. With more interest in the project, and more people jumping in to help, the committee became the Hailey Recreation Master Plan Committee. Members wrote a master plan for parks, lands and trails. It was adopted in 2002 and the committee turned into the city of Hailey Parks and Lands Board.

"We both learned a huge amount of how local government works, and how our community can come together, which is one of the reasons we stayed here," Becki said.

She and Steve say other members of the community have been vital in getting projects done.

The park's baseball field and accompanying program, the Toe of the Hill Trail and the rodeo grounds revamp would not have been possible without the devotion of hundreds of volunteers, Becki said.

"We thought, boy, isn't this fun, and aren't we fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with the right idea," she said. "But it wasn't just us. None of this would have happened without dozens and dozens of unnamed volunteers."

To better channel donations to parks, the pair launched the nonprofit Hailey Parks Foundation. The foundation recently handed more than $288,000 of community donations to the city of Hailey. The money will go toward the multi-million-dollar renovation of the historic rodeo grounds, set for a grand reopening July 2.

Though they saw a need and worked to address it, the thought of creating park after park was not part of the original plan.

"The projects had a life of their own," Steve said. "It was not so much of us coming to them. They came to us. It was like a snowball rolling down the hill."

But the Keefers wouldn't have it any other way.

"As the city grows, there's always a need for more projects," Steve said. "Becki and I do our share, but there are so many people behind the scenes."

Lessons in civics and organizing were gained on the job, as Steve and Becki participated in boards and served on commissions. Steve was chair of the Blaine County School District Education Foundation and is president of the Hailey Parks Foundation.

Becki served on the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission for six years, and was Hailey Parks and Lands Board project coordinator. In that capacity, she ensured that multiple interest groups worked together to develop the plan and the project for the new rodeo park.

Why the commitment to Hailey?

"Once we started a family, I couldn't imagine raising them anywhere else," Becki said. "I think Hailey represents that ideal community size."

Adding to the list of loves, she names the town's core values, deep-blue skies, clean air and clear view of the stars. Of course, access to parks and trails is high on the list.

"We hike every Sunday," Becki said. "Every Sunday we get to leave all our cares behind and just enjoy."

Perhaps the best thing about Hailey, though, is the people.

"People were always incredibly generous with their time," Steve said. "They want (any project) to be the best it can be. We think it's the greatest little town."

He guesses that 99 percent of the work was done by other people, but somehow the credit landed on the Keefers.

"Credit belongs to the community as a whole," he said.

Wherever the credit lies for Hailey's blossoming recreational opportunities, the purpose of the projects, and the heart behind them, remain the same.

"In the bigger picture," Becki said, "I'm hoping that someone else's mom will enjoy having a park for a picnic."

Rebecca Meany:

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