Imagine a city where green space comes as a matter of policy. That's how much Sioux Falls values its playtime for families. In fact, over the last decade the City added more than 120 acres of parkland. Usually the space comes with playground equipment, as well. Tally them up and families have more than 80 parks to explore.
Six pools, a wading spot, and a spray park offer summer fun, and one of those is an indoor facility open year round for families to escape winter. The City assures accessibility to all with free and reduced passes for those who qualify. The Great Bear Ski Valley on the edge of town offers affordable ski and tubing passes, and the Washington Pavilion's Kirby Science Discovery Center and Visual Arts Center showcase several floors of fun learning.
Here on the Northern Plains, we live a culture of hunting and fishing. Sioux Falls embraces it with two parks offering stocked fishing holes, not to mention the Big Sioux River with its lush greenway looping through the city. That same River Greenway features nearly 30 miles of bike path encircling the city. The Outdoor Campus and Butterfly House & Aquarium make up two of the attractions along the route. The Outdoor Campus offers hands-on learning about hunting, fishing, and other adventures for families to discover.
Sioux Falls public and private schools deliver some of the best education and extracurricular activities in the region. The public elementary schools operate in neighborhood locations, often acting as the area's anchor of activities, especially those schools which have community centers. Five libraries cater to families with books, computers, and programs. The system regularly experiences double digit percentage increases in usage because of its active outreach.
Those schools and parks anchored as gathering points help neighbors get to know each other and that's what contributes to the safe community. You don't have to just believe us. The city was recently named second best place to raise children!
Couple that with a long history of citizen engagement and newcomers quickly feel at home when they're welcomed and encouraged to get involved in helping steer this city, which ranks among the 50 fastest growing in the country.
We all want to create our own future. Sioux Falls' culture offers families the opportunity to shape and create a destiny together. My own story here demonstrates it.
At 36 years old and just a dozen years living in the community, voters elected me to the City Council, but I wasn't even the youngest among the eight. Two others had me beat. Together, the three of us with six preschoolers, helped move the city's family-friendly agenda forward. This time, in the mid-2000s, represented the early stage of Sioux Falls' fast-paced growth — on average, ten people and three new houses a day added to the city.
Sioux Falls epitomizes the kind of place where you can get onboard and get involved quickly. It's not only encouraged, it's expected. My employer never hesitated when I asked if I could run for office, even though my boss knew the part-time Council job would, at times, pull my attention away from my daily responsibilities. He wisely knew if the city grew and prospered, so would our business and all others. He lives the example. He co-chaired the most recent of Forward Sioux Falls effort. The campaign secured $15+ million in private donations from the city's successful businesses, which will fund the next five years of economic development. Most cities expect the taxpayers to cover that effort. Our city has a 30-year history of businesses giving back to keep up the momentum.
The local generosity extends to families, as well. Sioux Falls has long ranked as the second highest per capita giving to the United Way. The money all comes from the city's workforce and businesses. United Way doles out more than $10 million annually to non-profits serving young and elderly in need, but it also contributes monthly books to families of preschoolers at all income levels. Its goal: create a community of kids ready to learn when they go to school.
Our schools score high. Activities abound. You know your neighbors. Our kids can still safely walk to school. Why else would we rank as the second best city in the nation to raise children? But what really sets us apart is this drive — a Midwest ethos — stay optimistic, work hard, and make this a better place for all here today and tomorrow. It's a uniquely contagious atmosphere.