Get Outside and Play
Washington Township Parks director Lora Helmick oversees innovation and growth
By Stephanie Dolan
It would be easy to categorize Lora Helmick as outdoorsy. She often spends weekends camping with her family, freetime cycling, and her job spills over into her love for nature.
She works as the Washington Township Parks and Recreation director, a title she has held for five years. Before that she served as community outreach manager for Brownsburg Parks.
Washington Township Parks director Lora Helmick encourages thinking outside the box when it comes to park programs and growth.(Photos by Eric Pritchett)
Growing up in Avon, her closest park was Washington Township Park off U.S. 36, but she didn’t envision life directing at local parks when she finished high school.
At Indiana State University she started as an education major.
“After my sophomore year in the classroom, I realized I did not want to do that for the rest of my life,” Helmick said. “I met with a counselor who suggested recreation and sports management. From there, you either go into sports management or parks and recreation,” Helmick said.
As part of her education, the 2011 ISU graduate and current Stilesville resident interned at Indiana Park and Recreation Association (IPRA) in Noblesville.
It’s a life choice that led her in similar steps as one of her siblings. Helmick’s brother Will Lacey has worked as director of Danville Parks for seven years, and he’s worked there since he finished college.
She’s also still involved with IPRA as the current board president and recently received recognition from the organization. The Washington Township Parks and Recreation department was awarded the Excellence in Park Design award for Pecar Park, and she was named the Outstanding Professional of the Year award.
Since she started as director, the department has grown.
“When I first started the department was very small,” she said. “We had [me], a full time assistant director and a part time programmer. Being a part time programmer, it was really difficult for that person to do that many programs, so we really only had a handful of programs each year.”
Coming from a background of a lot of programs with Indiana Parks and Recreation, Helmick saw how much the community wanted those programming opportunities. The staff has gradually more than doubled in size.
“We were able to hire a full time recreation coordinator who has more than quadrupled the programming we used to have,” she said.
The best part of Helmick’s job is by far the people with whom she works.
“I feel like we have a really good team and a good working atmosphere,” she said. “It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and work together to accomplish a goal. Also, I feel like the things that we do help the community and make everyone’s life better by having those opportunities to enjoy time with family and be out in nature exploring.”
Pecar Park also opened in 2019, adding to the department’s property. Washington Township Park has served patrons since 1989 off U.S. 36 on the west end of Avon.
“That was one of my biggest accomplishments was opening that new park,” Helmick said. “I got firsthand experience in the construction and design of that park. Each member of the staff had a hand in putting that together.”
For four years, Helmick has taken recreation coordinator Trilby Berry-Tayman under her wing.
“She’s incredibly motivated and a forward thinker,” Berry-Tayman said. “I’m so grateful for the job I have here.”
Helmick thinks outside the box, Berry-Tayman said.
“She is not limited in her creativity,” Berry-Tayman said. “She got that Outstanding Professional award, and it’s well deserved because she puts her heart and soul into everything. She’s a lot of fun.”
Helmick appreciates her entire department isn’t afraid to try something new.
“Even if it fails the first time we’re not afraid to try it,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite things about this job.”
Helmick’s focus on growth and change combines with a passion to see as many people use the park space as possible, said assistant director Stephani Massa.
“She is fearless, dynamic, ambitious and unstoppable,” Massa said. “Most importantly, she encourages creativity within the department. She is always open to new ideas, and whether that idea succeeds or fails, she is always excited that we have tried something different.”
One example was Helmick completing a salary compensation study to make her staff’s wages comparable to that of other parks departments, which allowed an increase in maintenance staff.
“That really shows the value of parks and recreation for the community,” Massa said. “I am excited to continue working with her and the rest of our amazing staff to provide the community with new shows the staff how much you care about them.”
A caring parks staff, along Helmick working with township trustee Don Hodson and present and past township board members who are devoted to Washington Township Parks and Recreation, means growth and success, Massa said. It has taken the parks department from a mindset of maintenance and status quo to a place of growth and improvement.
With a recent 42-acre land purchase, the public can expect continued growth and innovation from the Washington Township Parks and Recreation department.
“We’re excited about a new park property,” Helmick said. “We’re proposing an outdoor aquatics facility and a community center.”
Another addition could be an all-inclusive playground to encourage outdoor play for children with a wide range of disabilities that includes sensory processing, she said.
“You learn so many lessons on a playground,” Helmick said. “You learn how to socially interact with others at a young age. That’s what this all-inclusive playground would do.”
Getting to know Lora Helmick
What’s new in your life? My husband Tim and I have two boys between us, and we’re expecting a third child in August.
Do you have any pets? I am obsessed with turtles. I have an office turtle named Scooter. I have an aquatic turtle that we rescued. I also have two tortoises that we rescued. My husband has told me no more turtles.
What is your favorite TV show? I go back and forth between “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” It’s crazy just how similar that show is to my job.
What is your favorite movie? It’s hard to pick, but I really like the Star Wars movies, but I’m usually a TV show person.
What is your favorite outdoor activity? I like to ride my bike. My favorite trail is Vandalia Trail. I live in Stilesville, and there’s a trail head in Amo. I like to go and ride on that for miles and miles on my bike.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I thought I wanted to be a teacher but also a veterinarian or to open my own pet rescue. I think when I retire I want to work at a nature center.
Washington Township considers aquatic center and more with recent land purchase
By Lindsay Doty
Washington Township leaders purchased two large parcels of land off of South County Road 625 East near the Avon Junior Athletic Association baseball fields for future park projects.
The 42 acres were purchased by Washington Township last year for about $1 million from Murphy Laboratories, according to park leaders.
The smaller property to the west is being called the future Creekside Park and runs along White Lick Creek. It will be reserved for nature and park space.
The larger land purchase, known as the future Murphy Park, named after the original owners, will be considered for development.
Township leaders are looking at several public projects for the land, including an all-inclusive large-scale playground, a community center and an outdoor aquatic facility.
“An aquatic area is something the community has said they have wanted for so long,” said Washington Township Park director Lora Helmick. “We’ve been looking into it for several years and then this property became available so close to our current park.”
Park leaders said the projects are all in the early phases and nothing has been decided. They held a special meeting in November and gathered ideas to present to the Washington Township Board.
“We have hired a design team, and we have had a few meetings. It really comes down to what that final dollar is,” Helmick said.
Washington Township leaders plan to hold several public meetings in the near future before any final decisions are made. Park leaders hope to bid on construction this winter.
For more information on Washington Township Parks and Recreation, visit their website athttp://washingtontwpparks.org.
Washington Township purchased two parcels of land measuring 42 acres for future parks projects in Avon. (Photo provided by Washington Township)