History of Bend Park & Recreation District

History of the Bend Park & Recreation District

It all started when…
A wagon train of hardy pioneers stopped one day in 1857 to camp by the Deschutes River in what is now Pioneer Park. Visited only occasionally by white explorers prior to the mid-1800s, the Bend area began to see the arrival of stockmen, lumbermen, businessmen and other settlers.  The City of Bend was incorporated in January, 1905, with a population of 300 souls.

Parks and recreation in the early 20th century
Corporate and private citizens began working with the city to meet the need for public spaces for recreation. The Shevlin-Hixon lumber company donated Shevlin Park in 1920. In 1921, the Women’s Civic League led a fight against subdivision of the beautiful site that is now Drake Park.  Throughout the first half of the 20th century, more parks were developed and youth recreation activities established. In 1946, the city built a baseball stadium (now called Vince Genna Stadium) on property acquired from Deschutes County. Two years later, the city built the municipal swimming pool that was the original Juniper Swim & Fitness Center.

Bend’s first Parks and Recreation Department
The city of Bend formed a recreation department and hired its first director in April 1949. Prior to then the city had operated summer youth recreation activities jointly with the school district. The parks and pool continued to be maintained by the public works department until 1964 when the maintenance function was merged with the recreation programs to form a new Parks and Recreation Department.

Bend Park & Recreation District separates from the City of Bend
As Bend and the surrounding area continued to grow, about one-third of those participating in park and recreation programs now were non-residents of Bend, yet city taxpayers were the sole support of the department.  A proposal from a citizens’ group led to a feasibility study, followed by community meetings, and finally the City of Bend Planning Commission resolved to form a special district with boundaries that included the nearby rapidly developing unincorporated areas.  The petition appeared on the ballot on May 28, 1974, and the Bend Metro Park and Recreation (BMPRD) district was established by a vote of 2 to 1. Voters subsequently approved a tax base that has provided a feasible method to fund and operate a comprehensive park and recreation program.

Vince Genna
Vince Genna came to Bend as an assistant recreation director in 1954, became director of the new parks and recreation department in 1964 and was Executive Director of the Bend Metro Park and Recreation District until his retirement in 1991. For 37 years, Vince relentlessly advocated for parks in Bend, persuading people to donate land, lend equipment and volunteer labor. On his watch, the district acquired more than 1,500 acres of land – through donations, land trades and a law he helped establish requiring developers to dedicate 8% of their subdivisions to parks. The citizens of Bend would not have such an outstanding park and recreation district today if not for the vision and perseverance of Vince Genna.

Bend Park & Recreation District today and beyond
In 2006, Bend Park & Recreation District received the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation management. This award is given to the best park and recreation agency in the nation for its population category.

The district currently maintains and operates more than 2,500 acres of developed and undeveloped parkland. That includes 81 parks/open spaces and 63 miles of trail. We offer over 770 recreation programs for all ages and abilities throughout the area and at the Juniper Swim & Fitness Center and the Bend Senior Center. We also hold several community events including the July 4th Festival & Pet Parade and the Day of Play.

With the help of partnerships and grants, new parks and trails are under development. Bend Park & Recreation District is dedicated to providing the best possible parks, trails, facilities, and programs to the community we serve.

Curious about how some parks received their names? Click here.