We are only one week into 2019, yet planning and preparation for the city's next year of outdoor enjoyment has been in the works throughout 2018 -- and even earlier.

We look forward to welcoming new businesses, residents and visitors to our extraordinary, park-filled community.

In 2018, our parks and recreation department earned several awards, tangible symbols that the quality of life in our community is recognized by others. Our planned growth maintains a focus on developing facilities and preserving greenspace to maximize value while fostering connections with nature.

We are expanding the 25-plus miles of paved pathways crisscrossing our community. A recreational path originating at Central Crossing High School will travel through Breck Community Park and connect to the historic Town Center. Also scheduled for completion are links from Town Center to Scioto Grove Metro Park on the city's southeast side and from Town Center to Fryer Park.

Construction is set to begin at Gantz Park on a nature-themed play area featuring safety surfacing and a broader range of play equipment, creating inviting outdoor adventures for children of all physical and cognitive abilities. The plan is similar to Windsor Park's Dream Field playground, recently recognized with a national award by GameTime Playgrounds for its innovation, resourcefulness, sustainability and community impact.

Youth sports are beloved in our city, reflected in the total participation numbers for Grove City Parks and Recreation-sponsored programs -- baseball, basketball and volleyball alone surpassed 2,300 participants.

As our baseball programs grow, we are faced with scheduling and maintenance challenges caused by overuse of the fields.

To address these issues, artificial turf will be installed on two additional diamonds at Windsor Park, bringing the total to four. This enhancement presents more durable surfaces and reduces the need for cancellations due to wet fields.

New parks are planned with options to expand youth sports offerings. For example, development plans for the new Pinnacle area park include considerations for lacrosse and soccer fields.

The Big Splash at Evans Park celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019. The water park, recognized internationally many times for outstanding safety practices, will be upgraded with new and improved elements sure to increase swimmers' enjoyment of an already popular family destination.

We proudly embrace our community's history by incorporating preservation efforts into our parks department, such as the historic buildings in Century Village. Restoration of the Grant-Sawyer Home and surrounding grounds on Haughn Road continues as we fulfill a promise made to its last resident, Ruth Jividen. As a direct descendant of the Grant family, some of the first settlers in Jackson Township, Jividen requested the property be maintained as a historic landmark and museum upon her death. Restoration of the barn is scheduled to be complete by summer.

All of the projects planned for our parks this year follow one simple theme: to continue providing beautiful, inviting places to gather with family and friends. Take a stroll and enjoy Grove City's history, sports and nature.

Mayor Richard L. "Ike" Stage is serving his fifth term as mayor.