When Esther Dunn published her history of Webster in 1970, the town of Webster was still largely rural. Large and small family farms and residential properties were centered by its village, and Webster’s business development had barely begun. Webster was ripe for development, both commercial and residential, and it would happen quickly.
Miss Dunn’s chapter on Parks and Recreation was filled with opportunities that are, sadly, no longer available to Webster residents: Happy Acres golf course, Woodhull and Kittelberger race tracks, Oklahoma Beach’s Cottreall Hotel and Bunco Club, Glen Edith’s recreation area, Inspiration Point picnic-camping-concession area, Willow Point Park and miniature golf course, and Locust Glen’s cottages, beach and harbor are all gone.
Luckily, some parkland from the early days remains for our enjoyment. Webster Park was transferred to Monroe county in 1939 and its nature trail, picnic facilities, shelters, playground equipment, parking, and camping on the former Camp Cutler facility enjoy public use in all seasons. Several town parks were acquired in the 60s: 63 acres on the south side of Empire and Gravel from Paul Otto in 1961, the Quinby 50 acres adjacent to the Town Hall property in 1962, and the 84 acres of the northwest corner of Schlegel and Basket road in 1967.
As Webster grew, the outdoor recreation needs of the community grew as well. The Webster Youth Commission was established in 1954 to provide summer programs for Webster youngsters. The offerings were a patchwork of crafting and play programs as well as sports camps for basketball, soccer, and baseball. The Webster Recreation Department was begun in 1962 under the leadership of Charles Sexton to provide programs for youth and senior citizens. Mr. Sexton came to Webster from Pennsylvania with a background in education and social services as well as a civil service designation as Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services. Mr. Sexton added summer day camps with local field trips, youth counseling, and youth after-school programs. By 1963, he had hired Debbie Powers (later Sexton) to take charge of recreation programs. Debbie launched Webster’s popular backyard swim program, having run a similar program in Penfield.
The Webster Athletic Association was founded in 1967 by several civic-minded gentlemen to provide baseball opportunities for Webster youth. The first bike route in upstate New York was installed in Webster in 1968.
As she finished her book, Miss Dunn was able to report the 1970 formation of a new Parks and Recreation Department under the supervision of the Town Board and the continued leadership of Charles Sexton who, as a civil servant, reported to New York State. Parks and Rec would be a game-changer for Webster citizens, and it remains hard at work for us today.
Webster’s Parks and Recreation Department
Charles Sexton was appointed Webster’s first Parks and Recreation Director in 1970, He organized and managed the department with the help of two full-time staff members. He evidently loved his work, as he would serve as director for the next thirty-four years, growing the staff, the program, and the number of participants. Mr. Sexton reports that he had no problems with the staff he hired, not even one. From the beginning, Parks and Rec held mutually supportive partnerships with the town, the village, and the school district.
In the early days, Mr. Sexton’s staff managed various programs located at district schools when they were not in session. Programs were recreational, educational, and supportive. In 1975, Mr. Sexton hired Kris Weingartner to run programs specifically for senior citizens. Both the recreation office and the senior office were located at the Town Hall. The programs for the West Webster Seniors who were meeting in the Old Methodist Church on Ridge Road and the Webster Seniors who were meeting at the Methodist Church on Curtice Park met for monthly potluck and cards. The Recreation budget allowed Kris to plan day trips and overnight trips to destinations chosen by the seniors themselves. By 1978, the Recreation Department had moved to the Old West Webster School on Old Ridge Road, across from St. Rita’s… now the Armory. Programs provided travel opportunities, meeting other seniors, and entertainment such as picnics and variety shows… impossible when meetings needed to be arranged around school calendars and schedules. Transportation was provided, along with access to a caseworker by appointment.
In 1978, the Recreation Department applied for money available from Monroe County to begin a Nutrition Program for seniors. This required a place for a kitchen. On October 10, 1979, the first meal was served at the temporarily closed Ridgecrest School. A year later, the Webster School District closed DeWitt Road School temporarily and the Senior Program moved there for 3 years. Access to a gym inspired the beginnings of the exercise program for seniors.
In 1983, the district reopened DeWitt and was looking to sell Ridgecrest School on Ebner Drive. The town purchased the building and land, designating the space for use by the Recreation Department. Mr. Sexton and Kris used this move to develop 5-day-a-week programming and services… a sort of “one-stop shopping” as Kris describes their approach. Bev Geier began her famous exercise program (still going strong after 50 years). Flu-shot clinics and Information on the growing numbers of Senior Citizen Housing communities were held as the properties were planned and became available. Surplus commodities were distributed when those programs were in place. Ridgecrest provided information, lectures, and lunch learning in the cafetorium. Kris was especially proud of the Humanities series held for a time that involved reading and discussing books. Faith Bell became a driving force in senior programming. Craft classes and holiday celebrations were held as were health screenings, blood pressure screenings, and for a time, Mobile Mammography Units.
Kris Weingartner remained the full-time coordinator of programming for seniors until her retirement in 2005. Mr. Sexton continued to oversee the expanded programming, facilities, and finances. Mr. Sexton brought the idea for Webster’s spray parks back from a trip to Canada’s Wonderland with his family. He was always thinking of new ways for Parks and Rec to serve the Webster community.
In 1996, Charles Sexton retired as the Executive Director of Parks and Recreation and Donna Fauth, who had previously been Director of Parks, was appointed by the town as his replacement. During her tenure, Donna oversaw operations of various parks and programs, expanded the adult recreational and fitness programs, and extended the hours of the department’s operations into the evening.
Mr. Sexton’s son Jared, who worked for Parks and Rec during his dad’s tenure there, recalls the eight years he spent as a “Fun Fest” camper, swim instructor, lifeguard, and volunteer, all of which provided learning, responsibility, income, and contributions to his growing resume. Parks and Rec organized many events for Webster’s Sesquicentennial celebration in1990.
In 2001, Mark Yaeger became the Commissioner of Webster Parks and Recreation, a position he holds still at this 2019 writing. The number of programs has grown to over 170 each quarter, and the full-time and part-time staff to over 50. Mark manages all recreation activities, buildings, athletic fields, and parks, and his recreation staff produces and manages all the programming. The parks staff maintains all parks and recreation buildings. Although most of the funding for Parks and Recreation comes from taxes, any revenue collected through programing and rentals is applied to the recreation budget to reduce expenses. Mark also submits grants and requests capital funds for larger projects. He is always on the watch for opportunities to make the most of this department. By 2009, the department had long since outgrown its space on Ebner Drive and Xerox was looking to divest its Chiyoda Dr. recreation property and surrounding land. The town purchased the property on which the enlarged, rebuilt, and heavily-used “Rec Center” sits today. In 2018, the Basket Road Field partnership between the town and the school district was reversed so that today WICSD owns the stadium and fields and the town can use it whenever not needed by the school district. Fees for the transfer of ownership are to be spent on a teaching station at Sandbar Park.
Commissioner Yaeger is most proud of great staff: 50 permanent and 250 summer staff, the 43,000-foot Recreation Center addition built in 2009-10 (still in great condition), three lodges (Liberty at Finn Park, North Ponds Lodge, and the Curry Building at the Arboretum) built during his tenure, the skate park at Ridgecrest, Miracle Field at Ridge Park near the Town Hall, the ice rink at the Rec Center donated by the Webster Rotary, and over 600 programs/year scheduled for the needs and wants of people of all ages.
Mark reports that in 2019, Parks and Recreation was inducted into the United States Sports Specialty Association Hall of Fame, an organization that supplies umpires for adult softball leagues and often rents Webster’s fields to hold tournaments for teams from across the northeast USA and Canada.
Mark is also proud of the events sponsored by the Rec Center, such as the Peep Show in April to support the Community Chest, the Summer Celebration in June, the Waterfront Lantern Festival, and the Waterfront Arts Festival, both held annually in July at North Ponds Park, and the Garlic Festival to support Miracle Field held in September at the Recreation Center.
Parkland and Open Space
The pace at which Webster was growing had to be alarming to Webster’s leaders in the latter part of the twentieth century. All they had to do was look around at nearby towns to see what happens when every available inch of land is developed. Through foresight and planning, that has not happened to Webster and it never will. From the 1935 acquisition of the Whiting property (transferred in 1937 to the county), the town has acquired a total of over 1200 acres of Open Space property, around 250 acres of which serve as public parks and the remaining 953 acres as open space, all Town-owned and operated, and all managed by Parks and Recreation.
The 50-acre Quinby property adjacent to Town Hall and the 63-acre Otto property at Gravel and Empire were acquired before 1970. Property at Empire and Ridge was developed under Charles Sexton’s leadership, as were the Hojack Trail under the auspices of the Rails-to-Trails program, Kent Park and Arboretum, and North Ponds Park with the hard-won assistance of New York State funds.
In 2003/4, soon after Mark Yaeger became Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, Webster citizens voted to bond 5.9 million dollars for an Open Space Program. By 2005, the Four Mile Creek Preserve property had been acquired from a developer. Soon afterward, Gosnell property had been acquired by a combination of donation by the family and purchase by the Town and the impressive list of acquisitions had begun. By the 2007 acquisition of the Hale property, many purchases, easements, and donations had been made and the bond funds were nearly spent. Other property owners contributing by sale, easement, or donation to the Open Space Program were: Chaudhri, Finley, Koza, Hawkins, Wahl, Barrett, Lockwood, Midnight, Schlonski, Schreier, and Smith.
Parks were developed over the years for the enjoyment of Webster citizens. They include Finn Park, First Responders Park, Four-Mile Creek Nature Preserve, Kent Park and Arboretum, Lincoln Park, North Ponds Park, Ridgecrest Park, Sand Bar Park,
Vosburg Hollow, Whiting Road Nature Preserve. Finn, Kent, and North Ponds parks have lodges for rent, and First Responders, Kent, Lincoln, and Ridgecrest parks have playground facilities. Boulter Field on Basket Road has sports fields currently owned by the school district but used as available by the Town. (From 2006-2018, the partnership was reversed with the Town owning the property and the school district using it as available.)
The Department of Parks and Recreation supports the work of the Friends of Webster Trails to develop and maintain trails within Webster’s parks and open space property. The trails maintained by the town and the trails group currently total 34miles and may be found as follows: Chiyoda Trail at 1350 Chiyoda Dr, Finn Park Nature Trail at 850 Maple Drive, Gosnell Big Woods Preserve at 680 Vosburg Rd, Vosburg Hollow Trail at 595 Vosburg Road, Hojack Trail from Lake Road to Phillips Road, Whiting Road Nature Preserve at 403 Whiting Road, Midnight Trail at 999 Lake Road, Arboretum Trail at 1700 Schlegel Rd, Four Mile Creek Trail at Phillips and Lake, Hickory Bark Trail off Hard Road, John Ungar Nature Trail off Hojack east of Drumm, Bird Sanctuary Trail off Orchard, and Sandbar Trail on Lake Road past Bay Road and near the outlet bridge.
- Esther A. Dunn, WEBSTER… Through the Years (Webster Town Board, 1971), 261-279.
- Charles Sexton and Jared Sexton, Interview October 4, 2019
- Rick Taddeo, Ed., Friends of Webster Trails Newsletter: Fall 2009, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2015, Fall 2015
- Town Times, Vol. 32, Its. 2, p. 12
- Webster Herald. Anna Hubbell, Ed., March 13, 2019, March 29, 2019
- Kris Weingartner, Interview August 5, 2019
- Mark Yaeger, Interview May 5, 2019, documents provided