Sun Valley Resilience Heroes: Jim Keating

Blaine County Rec District Jim Keating

Sun Valley Institute’s (SVI) Resilience Heroes Series recognizes the individuals, businesses, and governments that are building lasting quality of place locally and globally by implementing resilience-based solutions from energy use to water use to waste and beyond. At its core, resilience is the capacity to deal effectively with shocks and disruptions of all kinds. Here in Sun Valley, where our natural assets are central to our quality of life, SVI focuses on resilience to strengthen our ability to bounce back from harm to our local economy. Sun Valley Institute ensures lasting quality of place by advancing solutions for economic, ecological and social resilience locally and globally. By highlighting the work of inspiring local and global Resilience Heroes, we hope to strengthen public understanding of resilience and spark individual and community-wide action for

Blaine County Rec District Jim KeatingOne of the strongest throughlines that draws our community together is the outstanding access we have to recreational opportunities. This access is provided in large part by the Blaine County Recreation District (BCRD). Jim Keating, Executive Director of the BCRD, highlights the importance of recreation, especially during COVID, for both physical and mental well being. Recreating outdoors allows us to move our bodies, connect with one another from a safe distance, and enjoy the mental health benefits of spending time in nature. Keating advises that recreation can bind our community together. He offers guidelines for how to recreate while upholding current safety protocols. The BCRD is a model of community resilience; innovating and adapting in the face of challenge. Earlier this year, they opened 200km of groomed cross-country skiing for free public use. Now they are redesigning their programming to offer affordable, local summer camps.  We talked with Jim Keating to learn more about the BCRD and their resilience efforts:

The BCRD’s mission is to enhance Blaine County’s quality of life by creating healthy active recreational opportunities for all, can you describe how that mission has been impacted by COVID-19?

Like many organizations, the BCRD’s mission has been dramatically impacted since the inception of Covid-19.  BCRD closed all operations and youth programming at the Community Campus, impacting hundreds of users and over 30 staff members.  The BCRD also had to delay the opening of a revitalized BCRD Aquatic Center until summer of 2021 due to necessary construction delays during stay at home orders.  Through all this, the mission goes on, though with even greater urgency.  Active, outdoor recreation has become even more critical for both the physical and mental resilience of the community.  Revitalizing safe and sustainable indoor recreation and youth programming is another immediate priority and the BCRD is innovating to provide these offerings in new formats and environments in the months to come.

How has the BCRD innovated to continue fulfilling your mission during COVID? 

In the first stages of the Covid-19 crisis, the BCRD made close to 200km of groomed Nordic Skiing terrain available to everyone in our community, for free.  At that point, there were limited safe, outdoor options.  Following that, the BCRD worked to clear the Wood River Trail of snow, to make that available for the community.  The Wood River Trail sees close to 400,000 visits in a single year, and it serves to connect our community as one, active town square in these difficult times.  We hope both trail systems offered an active refuge with social distancing for everyone in the Wood River Valley and helped a little with the mental strain suffered by so many in our community.  Our current focus for innovation involves a complete model redesign of how to serve youth with affordable summer camp options and how to engage both physical and virtual programming for adults at the Community Campus.  Limited group sizes, space redesign, virtual fitness classes, aggressive hygienic investments, and screening protocols are the “new norm” and critical to sustaining these amenities safely in the future.  I hope these innovations from the BCRD and other great organizations facing these challenges will inform and support the successful next steps such as opening the schools in the fall of 2020 under our “new normal.”

We live in a community that is very active and fortunate to have abundant access to the outdoors. Should we continue to recreate? Is there a way we can continue to recreate without putting ourselves or others at risk?

Recreation is critical during this time to sustain both physical and mental health. Clearly, one must abide critical social distancing mandates from both the state and CDC.  At the core of that guidance is an effort to ensure a minimum 6-foot distance and avoid gatherings at parking lots or trailheads.  The more we all use common sense and abide by these measures, the better our chance to keep these outdoor amenities open and available for the community to enjoy responsibly.  More folks will seek outdoor options across parks, trails, tennis courts, and campgrounds in the coming months.  Let’s be smart and continue to respect and protect each other and absolutely follow recommended guidelines as they evolve for the benefit of everyone.

You’re part of the Blaine Recovery Committee, can you please describe your role on the BRC?

Let’s see, I play some roles on the EOC, the BRC, and a number of subcommittees during this time.  Given I have had the privilege of being a part of these groups during prior crises, I hope that my role is to contribute ideas, encourage collaboration, learn from other groups, and push the envelope a little in every meeting.  

As we think about what we need as a community moving forward, are there any measures you’d recommend taking so we can be better prepared?

Our greatest asset as a community is our diversity.  Our region is comprised of many cities, jurisdictions, and socioeconomic profiles.  Healthy, active recreation is a common binding value among us all.  The most important thing we can do to ensure sustainability going forward is to flex our diversity muscles and collaborate even more actively during this crisis.  Covid-19 is a complete and systemic crisis, and we need all elements of that system from government to health care to business to non-profits working together both to emerge safely from the immediate crisis but also to ensure we anticipate and suppress a future health and economic crisis.

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