The motto of the Opelika Parks & Recreation Department is “Something for everybody”, and they work hard every day to make sure to live up to that motto. Laura Leigh Pierce, the Public Relations Director said “We recognize the importance of thriving local parks and the opportunity for all citizens to lead healthy, active lifestyles in a safe, positive environment. We are not ‘just a gym’ or ‘just a recreation center’ or ‘just a fitness facility’. We are all of that combined. You don’t have to visit several different facilities because we have it all. From Zumba to massage therapy, basketball to ballroom dancing, personal training to karate, we have everything.”
The Sportsplex houses a state of the art weight room, cardio equipment, group fitness classes, and both indoor and outdoor tracks. Unlike many other places in the area, it also has a splash park, indoor aquatics center, two racquetball courts, tot watch, a basketball gym, meeting rooms, a soccer complex, an adult activity center, computer classes, therapeutic recreation programs, swimming lessons, sports leagues and dance lessons, all within the Sportsplex.
The Opelika Parks & Recreation Department also offers power tumbling and trampoline classes, art classes, a preschool program, cooking classes, tennis lessons, camp grounds, pickleball courts and special events at their various facilities throughout the year.
Opelika Parks and Recreation was established in May 15, 1946, making it one of the oldest municipal recreation departments in Alabama. During this time the department was made up of a park board with five members. In 1951 W.J. (Bill) Calhoun was hired as the first full time director of the department. City Hall cleared out an office, and Calhoun began making plans to expand the department further. The department grew to include the small white building in Mill Village and then in 1962, opened what is now known as Denson Drive Recreation Center and Covington Recreation Center.
It was Mr. Calhoun’s vision that brought the infamous monkeys and the Rocky Brook Rocket vintage train in the Municipal Park. It was his idea to start a Friday night program for middle school aged students that kept them in a fun and safe environment. It was also Calhoun who first thought to build a “Frisbee Golf Course” that stretched from the tennis center to McLure. Mr. Calhoun’s vision has carried Opelika Parks & Recreation from the small white building in Mill Village to the $32 million Sportsplex Facility that they have today.
What many people do not realize is the amount of work that goes on behind-the-scenes of all of the events and programs that are offered. Before they are even announced to the public, Opelika Parks & Recreation spends time carefully planning and researching all of their potential new offerings. Pierce said, “We are constantly trying new and innovative things to make our department and its services better.”
The Sportsplex as well as the entire Opelika Parks & Recreation Department is constantly working to improve its offerings and facilities. They are currently working to build an 18-hole disc golf course at the Sportsplex as well as building two new fields at West Ridge Park. “In the next five years we hope to have a softball complex built at the Sportsplex and to have all of the renovations at Spring Villa completed.”
All of the work that the Opelika Parks & Recreation Department has been putting in has been paying off. They have received awards for Agency of the Year, Facility of the Year, New Outstanding Professional of the Year, Innovative Program of the Year and the Jim Spain Professional of Year Awards from the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association. The Southeast Tourism Society recognized the Summer Swing Concert Series as one of the Top 20 Events in the Southeast, and this year the Sportsplex was Awarded Best Health/Fitness Center by the OA News Reader’s Choice Awards. Pierce says “Our biggest reward comes from seeing the smiles on the faces of the people in our community that we serve.”
“The most important part of Opelika Parks and Recreation is the citizens of Opelika. We also could not do any of the things that we do without the support of the Park Board, the Mayor and city hall. Our numerous volunteers are also a huge asset in ensuring that all of our events and programs are successful and meet the needs of our community,”