We are honored to work with parks and recreation professionals around the world, and we’re constantly learning about fun and unique projects, obstacles faced and innovative solutions that they create to overcome challenges. This week, meet Michael Hecker, CPRP, parks and recreation director for the City of Elk River, Minn.
Q: How long have you been involved in the parks and recreation industry?
A: I’ve been in a department head/director role in parks and recreation for more than 20 years.
After I finished my master’s degree in recreation administration at Indiana University, I took my first position in the parks and recreation field in Connecticut. From there, I was in Dutch Harbor, Alaska; moved to Mason, Ohio, for 11 years; and now I’ve been in Elk River for nearly two and a half years.
Q: What have been some of your favorite initiatives to tackle since moving into parks and recreation?
A: In cities where I worked in the past, we created destination parks where families could gather for entire afternoons. And that was one of the things that needed to happen here in Elk River. We have many small neighborhood playgrounds, but there really wasn’t a destination playground where families could gather for hours of play and enjoyment. Orono Park was more than 25-years-old, so we were ready to replace it. We started saving money to invest into the park renovation, and the community jumped on board. Orono Park has become our destination playground and has been really successful. Families from all over come to visit Elk River.
Another really important initiative that the City of Elk River is working on currently is our parks and recreation master plan. We get a lot of requests from community members—whether it’s for programming, facilities, park amenities—and this master plan will help us determine priorities when it comes to future park improvements.
We’ve surveyed community members and held public forums to hear from our residents so that we understand what’s important to them. From there, we’ll put it into a plan so that we can easily illustrate to tax payers how we’re spending their dollars. The planning process is underway now, and we hope to have it completed by fall 2014.
Q: What has been an exciting change you’ve seen in the industry?
A: One of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in the industry is that organizations have to work together to be successful. We partner with lots of youth organizations to offer different programming options—the city provides the space and they deliver the program. While this has been an ongoing effort for many sports organizations, a new trend we’re seeing is that the youth organizations are offering scholarships to make participation more affordable for citizens.
Another aspect of partnerships in the parks and recreation industry is land acquisition. There is a prized property along the Mississippi River in Elk River that was assessed at more than $3 million. The City didn’t have dollars earmarked for the purchase of that land, but we were able to find funding by collaborating with the Conservation Fund, an American environmental non-profit with a dual charter to pursue environmental preservation and economic development, and other agencies within Minneapolis.
It’s important to create partnerships in this industry, and it’s more difficult to be successful if you don’t have them.
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: I’ve got a wife and five children, so I really enjoy spending time with them. My wife is from Idaho, so we enjoy driving out west to visit family. During those trips, we like to make stops at local and National Parks—one of our favorites is camping in Yellowstone National Park. We also like rollercoasters. When we lived in Ohio, we went to Kings Island near Cincinnati, which has The Beast, the world’s longest, wooden rollercoaster.
Another hobby that I’ve gotten into is digital scrapbooking. We take lots of photos on our trips, so I take them and put them into a movie/slide show for us to look back on.
Learn more about Michael and his work at the City of Elk River at www.ElkRiverMN.gov/parksandrec.