Kathy Kreipe discovered more than new ways to stay busy when she checked out Seven Oaks Park after settling in Irmo a few years ago.
“This has the feel of friends,” she said of her twice-a-week ceramics class with fellow retirees.
Her reaction is a hallmark of the 42-year-old park that has evolved into a hub of entertainment, education and exercise for seniors as well as younger families.
Those 55 and older compose a third of 500,000 annual visitors, park director John Cantey estimates.
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That’s no surprise to the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission officials who oversee the park.
The population of those 55 and older in neighborhoods and communities on the north side of Lake Murray is growing steadily, a report by the Central Midlands Council of Governments says.
That age group doubled to an estimated 28,223 people today from 13,285 in the 2000 census, officials said. It is forecast to total nearly 33,000 – almost a third of the area’s population – in 2020.
The increase mainly reflects parents staying in their homes as children become adults and move out, officials said.
A $4.1 million facelift just finished at Seven Oaks makes the 42-acre park more appealing for all ages.
It’s the first in a series of park improvements totaling $18 million coming around the north side of the lake during the next year.
At Seven Oaks, older residents gained a second gym with a walking track and workout equipment easy on joints as well as a new dining area for midday meals.
Outdoor sports fields also were updated, enabling the park to host tournaments that attract families and provides extra income for operations.
Overall, indoor facilities at Seven Oaks nearly doubled in size from to 45,000 from 24,000 square feet.
Activities are geared toward seniors until mid-afternoon, when youngsters and families arrive after school and work.
Coming to the park for entertainment as well at exercise and education results in “socialization nonstop” for everyone but especially seniors, 70-year-old retiree Bruce Bondo said.
Three dozen activities for seniors – many of them $15 or less – typically are available every three months.
Catherine Wright described her dance class as a combination of fun and workout often ending with lunch and outings afterward.
“It’s happiness,” dance instructor Betty Jo Toole said.
The bond among seniors is so strong that regulars often check on absentees to see if unexpected health problems arise, Cantey said.
E. Z. Langston found more to do than he expected after checking out park activities following retirement six months ago.
“I needed something to fill my days,” he said. “Now there’s always something to do.”
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483