Meet the real life characters of Parks and Rec

June 27, 2014


Staff member Naomi Botkin sits down with the people whose work makes our parks fun.

Imagine another Monday back in the office after a never-long-enough weekend. You’ve clocked in, logged on, tuned in, and you’re ready to get down to business.

The business of monkey bars and ball fields, that is.

There’s something special about folks who choose to work in parks and recreation, where public service and play come together. Since parks agencies are some of the Wildlife and Recreation Coalition’s most important partners, I called up a few folks to get a first-hand perspective on the culture of working in parks and recreation.

Each of these communities are pursuing new play venues for their growing communities through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP); Bellevue, Vancouver and Bellingham each submitted grant applications this year for new projects for funding in 2015.

Funding a park requires a lot of paperwork, but the motivation comes from a much more active place.

“There’s an inherent joy in the work,” says Robin Cole, Project Manager for Bellevue Parks and Community Services. “People feel accomplished because they are providing permanent facilities for other people to play in. … We work hard with the community to make sure people are getting what they need and what they want to the best of our ability.”

For Julie Hannon, Director of Vancouver Parks and Recreation, play and celebration are key to building a cohesive team and it’s where the department gets their mandate for work in the community.

“Open space and parks are critical to our community,” says Hannon. “I think it’s a good time for parks and recreation to come out and show their worth. People will rally around that.”

Team-building is an annual affair for Bellingham Parks and Recreation staff. According to Director James King, the team spends one day a year “sprucing the place up” at one of the department’s facilities. One year the team collected over 200 bags of garbage from a newly acquired parcel of land.

“People worked really hard and had the sense that we were accomplishing something together,” says King.

Like any work, parks and recreation has its challenges.

“There’s a responsibility for us to do the best we can to meet community expectations and protect neighborhoods,” says Cole. To meet that responsibility, parks staff have to juggle permits, budgets, schedules, contractors, and community input.

But the opportunity to meet the needs of the community make it all worth while.

“To me, that’s the whole motivation for this type of work,” says King, “the joy of seeing people doing things, whether it’s walking on a trail, playing in a park, participating in a ball game or program, but gaining enjoyment from our work.”

Cole is managing the development of Meydenbauer Park, a waterfront park on Meydenbauer Bay in Bellevue. Hannon’s community can also look forward to more waterfront play at the Columbia River Waterfront Park. In Bellingham, King’s team is working to expand soft transportation connectivity with the Squalicum Creek Trail.

Now, it is up to the Coalition to do its part to ensure there is robust funding for these and other great projects!