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WESTPORT — It all started with a broken slide at the City Hall Annex in 2016.

After this slide was closed and deemed unsafe, officials couldn’t understand why there was no recreation employee or funding for repairs.

Fast forward to 2022 — the city has a director of recreation, concerts, family movie nights and an assortment of year-round activities that promote mental and physical health, according to director Dana Stewart.

“(We) have worked hard to create a recreation department where there was none before. After much work, dedication and perseverance, we now offer a wide variety of programs and special events for the community and have our own website at with the ability for people to view and s ‘enroll in our programs through the website,'” Stewart said.

Stewart was hired in 2018, just two years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Although the pandemic could have seemingly shut down the new department amid budget cuts and closures, Stewart and officials have found a way to stay relevant during this time.

“Our department persevered during the COVID pandemic, establishing the Westport Food Pantry during this time. Now it (the food pantry) is its own non-profit organization and I can start providing recreation services again.

In addition to offering an assortment of recreational activities for children, teens, and adults, the WRD also rents out the City Hall Annex Gym for birthday parties, baby showers, or other special events.

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Stewart said there are weekly summer camps with themes, many of which pay homage to the city’s waterfront and arts community,

To name a few, the Westport Recreation Department offers youth in the community rowing on the Westport River, art and jewelry making workshops for teens and adults, Stewart said.

Tennis lessons are offered at the city’s newly constructed tennis courts on the Westport Middle/High School campus.

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“I believe our recreation department has an extremely positive effect on the Westport community and its residents. The benefits of community recreation are many and include: overall improved health and well-being…opportunities to socialize with others and meet new friends, learn a new skill or hobby, to enjoy the creative arts,” Stewart said.

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All summer, social media was lit up with photos and comments from people who enjoyed some of the shows.

“They’re doing all kinds of cool projects,” Kathy Nolette posted on Facebook.

Nolette’s comments came after a recent Children’s Art Week.

The president of the Recreation Commission, Renée Dufour, could not be happier. Dufour, Tim Gillespie and other townspeople led the relaunch of the department and the decision to appoint a director in 2018.

“I think Dana (Stewart) has done a terrific job here portraying the huge success that Westport Recreation has had over the past few years,” Dufour said recently. “Dana has done a tremendous job getting this department up and running and we are very happy with the response from the community. We have needed to revitalize the department for many years.

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