Even in the midday heat, Girsh Park hums with activity: there’s a lively pick-up basketball game in progress, a group of kids practicing soccer, a mother reading to two little boys in the welcoming shade of a tree. The 25-acre park is a landscape with which people engage, a setting that draws folks of all ages and income levels. The park’s Executive Director Ryan Harrington is understandably proud. “This is one location that brings everyone together,” he says, “Kids and adults with different norms, values, socioeconomic levels, all gathering for games, picnics, birthdays, even baptisms and weddings.”
In 1999, when the park first opened, there were a few fields, basketball courts, and picnic areas, but the then-12-acre facility was a blank canvas, with no programs or events in place, or even much of a plan. A sustainable business model was needed in order to manage this new community asset, and the decision was made to create a nonprofit foundation, combining fee-for-service income, private donations, and city contributions to yield remarkable collective good.
Before long, the soccer fields drew a couple of adult soccer leagues that started playing weekend games there. A few years later, the park acquired an additional thirteen acres that included four more baseball fields and a permanent home for Dos Pueblos Little League, and the AYSO Region 122 began using the fields in the fall. This addition to the park became known as Elings Fields. The framework of Girsh Park was taking shape.
Annual traditions were established: Goleta’s Fireworks Festival on the 4th of July, The Lemon Festival, and a huge, free Easter Egg Hunt for the kids. Along the way, more baseball and soccer programs were added, including tournaments, camps, and leagues. A synthetic turf surface was installed, giving Girsh Park one of the nicest public fields in town. New restrooms were built, as well as a concession stand, quality batting cages, and better access to the Elings Fields complex.
Today, Girsh Park serves the Goleta community and beyond, with upwards of 500,000 visits per year, and is a critically important aspect of life in Goleta. In June, the Goleta City Council presented Harrington with a commendation to celebrate the park’s twenty years in Goleta. Councilman Stuart Kasdin described the park as “the heart of the community” and indeed it is.
However, on the twentieth birthday of the park, there is a sense not merely of accomplishment, but of potential as well. Staff envisions expanded picnic areas, better field lighting, new playgrounds, skateboard elements, and other innovations. “Girsh Park truly is Goleta’s park,” says Harrington, “and we will work to keep improving it. More than anything, we are grateful to the City of Goleta for its unwavering support.”