Golfers, concerned citizens and even a former mayor took to the stand on behalf of Liberty Lake’s municipal golf course in the latter part of 2010.
The rally surfaced after a city-commissioned survey saw citizens rank Trailhead at Liberty Lake – the 63-acre golf course purchased by the city in 2002 – last on a list of spending priorities leading up to budget discussions for 2011.In her preliminary budget, Liberty Lake Mayor Wendy Van Orman recommended that the course shut down for the winter on Nov. 13 and that the full-time jobs of course manager/pro Mollie Thola and maintenance supervisor Ron Knudsen be shifted to seasonal positions.
Since the city took over the course nearly nine years ago, Trailhead has remained open during the winter, weather permitting. If conditions happened to be mild, the facility turned a tidy profit – such as in February 2005 when unseasonable temperatures translated into around $25,000 in revenue.
Steve Peterson, who served as mayor of Liberty Lake from 2001 to 2007 and played an active part in the campaign to preserve the greenspace, was one of several residents less than enthused about Van Orman’s plan.
“These are employees who have been committed to the success of the golf course and I think it’s time for the city to make a commitment to this venue,” Peterson said at the Dec. 14 City Council meeting.
By the time the final budget for 2011 received approval from Liberty Lake’s governing board, the course manager/pro position had been fully reinstated. Thola later interviewed for the job and was rehired.
Meanwhile the city consolidated Knudsen’s position of golf course maintenance superintendent with the role of parks and open space superintendent and began interviewing applicants earlier this month. Liberty Lake Community Development Director Doug Smith said the city received over 40 bids for the post before signing on Jennifer Camp this week.
Van Orman said Camp brings a background in horticulture and greenspace maintenance that aligns with the city’s emphasis on parks, trails and open space. In addition to Trailhead and recreational sites like Pavillion Park and Rocky Hill Park, Liberty Lake has set aside land near City Hall for a municipal arboretum.
Trailhead, meanwhile, remains closed until the weather improves. Van Orman said it would be Thola’s call as to when the course reopens. The mayor added that the city is looking at several new approaches to generating revenue at Trailhead – including ideas like rate increases and expanded programs brought up by citizens during the budget discussions.
“We’re definitely re-evaluating that,” Van Orman said. “We’ll be bringing in community stakeholders to talk about some different approaches. We want to keep the cost low for the public but still be able to pay for some of these maintenance costs.”
Thola – who is currently working in an office at City Hall in preparation for the 2011 season – said she was “amazed by the support from the community” throughout the budget talks.
Before anyone walks up to the first tee, Thola said the course will need to recover from a harsh season of snow and ice. Everything from the remnants of languishing fowl to snow mold is on the cleanup list.
“We have some work to do,” Thola said.