Inside View with Tom Harmer: Carolyn Brown, Director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources

Inside View with Tom Harmer: Carolyn Brown, Director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources


I’m Tom Harmer territory County
administrator welcome to this edition of inside view today I’m here with Carolyn
Brown she’s the director of parks rec and natural resources hi Carolyn thanks
for joining us thank you for having me before we start talking about County
business I wanted to ask you just some general information about your
background how did you end up here in Sarasota County okay
well sure well my family moved down to this area when I was in fifth grade so
I’ve been part of the local school system graduated from Venice high school
went on to Eckerd College and got a degree in wellness and then spend some
time in Japan for a couple of years teaching conversational English and then
settled into my position here with Sarasota County Parks Recreation and
have served in this role or in the department for 28 years in a variety of
different capacities so when you were thinking about what you wanted to do
professionally when you first started with the county 28 years ago did you
think about I want to be the director of the parks department oh absolutely not I
didn’t know it was just sort of a natural evolution and just became more
involved in each and every little aspect of the department and then about seven
years ago was asked to be the director good what I know there’s a lot of
exciting things going on in your department why don’t you start by
telling us a little about what does the director do yes
well simply stated I ensure that Sarasota County is the best place to
live work and play and of course special emphasis on the word play but but truly
what I do on a daily basis is to focus on strategy the department budget I’m
involved in land acquisition and park planning and and then capital projects
that go along with the planning of parks I ensure that our parks are safe and
clean and make sure that our customers are being served well and that
everything is running smoothly and I think from the park standpoint it’s
really one of those departments that we have here in the county that focuses on
quality of life and I know we survey our residents every year and we hear great
things about the quality of life here in Sarasota County I know this past year
ninety-seven percent rated the quality of life here in says that a county is
good to excellent I think parks play a big part in that
absolutely they do and then a couple years ago we combined the natural
resources department and preserves natural preserves with Parks and Rec how
does that fit into your overall mission well it absolutely fits together
perfectly we oversee acres and acres of land that we preserve and protect to
make sure that they’re available for future generations and to make sure that
you know there there’s land to appreciate in the future I know in
session together we talked about about 30% of the land in the entire county is
protected in some form or fashion and one of the things that you’ve been
working on is to open up some of those natural lands how is that going it’s
going well we have done quite a bit of work ensuring that people have access
and making improvements even small improvements like adding a kiosk or a
bench or you know information available so that people can go out and enjoy
these preserves so give me an example of some of the different types of
facilities that you oversee because I know it’s a diverse group 160 different
facilities around the county correct it we have about 160 parks preserves and we
have over 55,000 acres of parkland that we maintain and manage and preserve we
have 113 athletic fields we have 44 playgrounds
we have beaches in fact we have the number one beach in the nation and of
course number five in the world we have all kinds of trails and we have 13
recreation centers we have events and programs that we offer and all kinds of
things that are available for the community to enjoy
so you hit on some of this but it would be some fun fast facts that you want to
share with the public well I did share several of those but we have amazing
amazing kayaking experiences at Ted’s Burling Park we have a snook snick Haven
restaurant where people can experience old Florida in a unique setting we have
so many diverse things like BMX BMX track here in Sarasota or you know we’re
getting ready to host the 2017 row rowing championship at Nate’s Nathan
Bend erson Park so there’s just so many unique characteristics of our park
system here in Sarasota County I think that’s important to understand from a
small pocket park in the neighborhood to an international venue like Nathan
Benison Park in the World Rowing to Siesta Beach the number one beach all
those different activities require a lot of resources to manage as well so can
you describe your team that helps take care of those are 160 properties well I
have the best team there is they are the most creative and outstanding group of
individuals but there’s over a little over 200 of us that work directly for
Sarasota County but then we have a lot of unique agreements with outside
organizations and nonprofits to help us complete our mission and we work very
very closely with all of those groups be it an athletic league or the YMCA for
example or any any of the groups that we work together with in order to complete
our mission and to serve the public how do you work with the cities as well
right exactly and that’s that’s another aspect we have several interlocal
agreements with the municipalities throughout Sarasota County in several
cases we maintain and manage parks that fall within the city limits where we’re
getting to a point where we’re focusing more on the regional parks those larger
parks and parks that serve the entire community well I think that’s an
important point you just completed it over the past year
so an updated parks master plan and that was really part of the focus is what is
the future of parks for Sarasota County and cities have parks we maintain some
of those but looking at the bigger role of regional parks and regional
facilities and the beaches and those large assets in the county the county
taking a lead role on those and maybe some more of the smaller parks
especially within the cities then taking the role for managing those and planning
for those types of right that is exactly what we’re trying to focus on in the
future as you mentioned you know beaches attract people from all over the county
and our visitors are here and they go to those locations and so those large
environmental lands that you would not normally find within the city limits
those types of larger scale regional attractions or regional parks are the
things that we want to start to focus on in the future
good so if you were trying to prioritize what were the would be to five things
that you think the Sarasota County residents and visitors should know about
the park system well one thing is that we certainly contribute to the overall
economic sustainability of our community by bringing in large tournaments that
play on our athletic fields by hosting regatta events at Nathan Bend erson park
or BMX events at the track we contribute significantly to to that aspect of
Sarasota County we also offer summer camp programs with
summer right around the corner children will be out of school wanted our
audience to know of what the great programs that we have available for our
community and one thing that I certainly want to mention is the upcoming World
Rowing Championships that everybody needs to begin to look forward to
September 23rd is the date that will kick off that event for ten days we will
have the world on center stage here in Sarasota County and so it’s going to be
truly an amazing opportunity for us as community to host the World Rowing
Championships here yeah you mentioned your summer programs another very active
I think there’s even waiting list to get into some of those programs so do you
see seasonal impacts with your programs like that would be a summer program but
I know we see a lot of visitors come in in the winter as well that that is
correct right summer camp is in the summer season but of course during the
more high season we get tons and tons of visitors to our beaches and parks and on
the legacy trail for example people use our facilities when they come to visit
and it’s truly an amazing thing for our community to host people from out of
town and you mentioned the sports piece I think it’s not normal to think of the
parks department as an economic engine but in many ways your department plays a
big role with that you coordinate with visit Sarasota County absolutely we do
we often meet with them and we collaborate and figure out ways that we
can do more and more to maximize and the opportunities that could potentially
come to Sarasota County I know your staff also liaisons with the Baltimore
Orioles here at Ed Smith Stadium oh absolutely it’s great to have the
Orioles here in the spring and of course the stadium is used throughout the year
for various events and and and tournaments and things so we’re great
partners and you know we we have things that are going on there throughout the
year yes so how does the public contact your department if they want to learn
more about a program or sign up for the the summer camps or other things that
they want to find out about some of the parks sure going to our web site is a
great opportunity we have lots and lots of information up on our website of
course our Facebook page is available and we would love for everybody to like
us on our Facebook page you know of course obviously calling eight six one
5,000 or calling us directly sending us an email any any of those options are
certainly available signing up for a class or going directly
to one of our rec centers where their staff available good bra
I know we’ve covered a lot of things in a relatively short timeframe but it
shows the diversity I think of the of the preserved properties the beaches the
legacy trail the major sports facilities like it’s in the stadium and Nathan Park
but all of the other things in between if there was really one message about
your department that you would want to you know close with what would it be
well I would say we have an outstanding probably one of the best park and
recreation and Natural Resources departments in the state we encourage
people to come out and use our parks and just be a part of it get healthy get out
there be involved so because it all starts in parks ok I know I was waiting
for this location and that’s a common slogan right here that all starts in
parks so congratulations I know you and your team do a great job it shows in our
surveys and and so thank you for being on the team preciate that and thank you
for joining us today for this session of inside view with Carolyn Brown the
director of parks recreation and natural research

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