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Party in the Park series kicks off June 7

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | JUNE 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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Concerts, crafts, outdoor activities, ice-cream eating, family time, and socialization are summer paradigms for the Iowa City community.

The Party in the Park series offers all of those things.

The series includes a variety of acts and activities at different parks in the Iowa City area every Thursday from today through Aug. 30.

The sixth-annual Party in the Park series kicks off today from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in South Hickory Hill Park and features live music from local artist Nancita Wernett, who will perform original parables, folk, blues, and ballads. The free event also includes games, arts and crafts, and ice cream for families and neighbors to enjoy.

"One of our biggest goals is to focus on spotlighting different parks each week, inviting people in to see what their amenities are and to enjoy that with their neighbors," said Joyce Carroll, one of the program's organizers in the city's Parks and Recreation Department. "Of course, my main goal is to have a good time."

The program was originally called Family Fun Nights, but Carroll said the name was changed in an effort to attract neighbors to the events rather than just families.

"Not only then did we begin focusing on the neighborhood, but we started to find we had 'groupies' coming in from outside those neighborhoods each week," Carroll said.

Marcia Bollinger of the Neighborhood Services Division said Party in the Park is just one of the many local programs that cater to Iowa City's "diversified" community.

"I think, for the most part, people in Iowa City are really social beings," she said. "They like to be involved, like to be aware of what's going on. By attending these activities, they stay in closer contact with their neighbors, and that just makes communication that much easier."

Roxanne Gustaveson, an Iowa City resident who has taken her daycare students to various past Party in the Park events, says the program was a hit with her kids and a good way to "trace a track" through the community from week to week.

"It's very relaxed, social and kid-oriented, as well as a very well-planned event," she said. "They are really adventurous and creative with their program, and there was always something for every age, no matter what you're interested in."

Event managers said providing entertainment for visitors of all ages was one of the program's main goals, from the retired-age crowd to bubble-blowing children.

"Adults are more interested in the music for the most part, and kids are more interested in the crafts and games," Carroll observed. "Although everybody's interested in the ice cream at the end of the night."

Events such as Party in the Park are not only entertaining but fundamentally healthy for the community, Bollinger said.

"Facilitating positive activities is always a good thing," she said. "Any opportunity for people to get together for a positive-type event, the more apt you are to work through any issues or problems that you have. We like to establish a sense of ownership with the parks."

Carroll said she has also observed the power of positive energy.

"Probably the biggest impact an event like this has is that it makes the community a much more livable, peaceful place," she said. "There are people in the community who are interested in feeling that kind of a strength, and Party in the Park definitely contributes in some way."

For Bollinger, parks have a draw to them that even the popular downtown cannot match.

"They're natural gathering places. It's a common space where people can go to spend their leisure time," Bollinger said. "It's taken a little bit of time, but I think Party in the Park has become a sort of Iowa City tradition."


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