Program Report: Parks and Rec – Tom Dawson and Jason Jones

I don’t know if it was done on purpose but the previous week’s presentation from Rotarian Ashleigh Bachert about the Durham Sports Commission that she heads, but this week’s presentation from two of the assistant Directors of Durham’s Parks and Recreation department seemed to be the other side of the same coin.

Whereas a good deal of the focus of the Sports Commission is bringing events to the community along with dollars and hotel room nights, the Parks and Recreation Department focuses on Durham citizens. There is considerable overlap however in both the areas of facilities and in programming.

Our speakers, introduced by Danielle Kaspar (pinch hitting for Michael Kriston,) represented the two main arms of the department touching the public directly. The first to speak was Tom Dawson, a landscape architect by training, responsible for Parks and Planning. Jason Jones is a Certified Parks and Recreation Professional (CPRP) and responsible for the programs organized for all those facilities. They compose half of the leadership team of the department that is directed by Rhonda Parker and includes Joy Guy, who handles Administration.

Listening to these guys was a bit humbling for me, a guy who has been around a long time here in Durham and a has been jock. I learned a lot. The first surprise was the scope of activities and facilities. 69 Parks? Who knew? 57 Playgrounds, 5 pools on over 2000 acres.

I also learned that art on bathroom wall cuts down on crime. A couple of pictures that Tom shared showed what some creative use of paint could do the turn a drab block building into something that attracts eyes and discourages criminal activity. This I can believe but someone else reviewing my scribbled notes thought I had noted the art on bathroom walls cuts down on urine. Anyway, I’m going to look closely the next time I pass one of the parks mentioned.

Another surprise was the programming of some facilities for sports I’d never heard of. One was Fistball, which is a weird cross between volley ball and tennis…which, if I understood these guys correctly can be played on underutilized and/or re-purposed tennis courts.

And then there is Quidditch, which seemed to be something I had heard of but couldn’t quite pin down. My daughter, however, who has read all the Harry Potter books and seen all the movies multiple times knew exactly what it was…a game wizards play on flying boomsticks adapted for nerds (my daughter’s words, not Tom or Jason) without wizard powers or airborne broomsticks.

Pickleball I had heard of even though many in the audience hadn’t. I even knew a guy who had a court in his back yard in Montana, which I figured must be playable about one month a year. How about Disc golf…heard of that?

And then there is Parks and Rec’s responsibility for trails, developing festival space, special events, a fitness program for kids and on and on.

So I learned a lot.  However, the biggest take-away for me was the correction of my own stereotype of parks and rec departments.  I thought they were primarily a refuge for otherwise unemployable has-been jocks who could supervise a sport or two and keep track of a half dozen types of balls and other athletic equipment.

We tend to think of the new Durham as “cool” because of all the bars and restaurants, the art and music scene and the brainiacs that come here to do high tech start-ups and to absorb all that coolness. But Tom and Jason proved that our coolness goes much deeper than that and some of it (OMG Socialism) is paid for by our tax dollars through our city and county governments.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

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