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West River Community Center rebounding after dip

Press Photo by Ashley Martin Trasa Diem of Dickinson cross-country skis at Lions Park near Dickinson Friday afternoon during the BodyFit Challenge Ski Day. The BodyFit Challenge, hosted by West River Community Center, is a 10-week program that incorporates physical activity and wellness seminars.

After a steady decline in use and members since 2007, the West River Community Center in Dickinson is bouncing back, Park District officials say.

Peak membership was in 2007, said James Kramer, director of Dickinson Parks and Recreation.

"At the end of '09 and early 2010, we bottomed out at 3,700 members," Kramer said. "Since that point we have gradually went up, up, up. As of January of '11 we're back at 4,179."

Daily use of the facility declined until September, when activity at the building began to rise again.

However, 2010 use stats were several thousand below 2009, which was also lower than previous years.

"Am I worried about it? No. Actually we're thinking in the opposite direction. We're thinking that we're going to have phenomenal growth," Park Board President Mike Lefor said. "While you've seen a downward trend, since August it's clearly been on the uptick and in January it exploded."

The total use of the West River Community Center in January 2010 was 23,445, while last month it was 27,680.

"Last fall when we were doing our budget prep for 2011 we were anticipating that the building was going to lose about $80,000 and by the end of the year, it ended up making money," Kramer said.

Kramer and Lefor point to several possible reasons for the recent slump.

"People were concerned, I believe, about our global economy," Lefor said. "Even though our local economy is going well, you have to realize that we do have some employers in Dickinson that are more national in nature. I think people were watching their pennies a little bit."

They have also tracked the downward trend to another fitness business opening in town.

"There's no question that we lost members because of that," Lefor said.

Kramer said the "newness" of the building wore off as well causing a loss of interest.

"It's just like anything else in business," Lefor said. "You're going to have trends up and down and things like that. We position ourselves as an organization to price our product so we get the benefit of having as many people use the facility as we can."

Now the Park District is "bracing for growth," Lefor said.

"We're excited about where we see the building going and the next big step for us is to see what changes do we need to make to keep the building growing and not just standing still?" Kramer said.

Park Board members will be discussing growth at their roundtable meeting Friday at 8:15 a.m. at the West River Community Center. The meeting is open to the public.

"That's when we're going to start putting some ideas on the table as to how we're going to accommodate this growth in the future," Lefor said.

The discussion will encompass the Park District as a whole, not just the WRCC, Kramer added.