For over two decades, Chris Stice has been a key member of the leadership at the Hamilton County parks department. His titles have included Quality Control Director, Assistant Superintendent, and his current title of Deputy Director, but essentially his duties have remained the same throughout his tenure. Those duties include overseeing the daily operations and other capital development projects of the department, getting quotes for equipment and products for the department, and working with local agencies, nonprofits, and other civic organizations to meet the needs of the community.
Chris was kind enough to speak to the Kenney Machinery blogging staff about his experiences with the parks department and some of the challenges he faces. Here’s what he had to say in response to our questions.
What are some of the flagship facilities maintained by the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation department?
There are four parks we maintain that I would consider icons in the community, and those are Strawtown Koteewi Park, Coxhall Gardens, Potter’s Bridge Park, and Cool Creek Park.
At the Strawtown Koteewi Park, we’ve just finished up a development of our adventure area, which encompasses an Olympic-sized archery facility including 96 shooting stations and a 3D range. It also includes the Aerial Adventures Trail, which is a trail system in the trees that encompasses zip lines and high elements and allows people to enjoy the park from a different perspective.
We also have our Strawtown Koteewi stable and trails, which is an equestrian operation that takes people out on equestrian rides and provides educational opportunities for equestrian seekers to go on the trails at Strawtown Koteewi Park. That park itself is approximately 800 acres with approximately nine miles of trail surrounded by 3.5 miles of the White River.
Also, we have Coxhall Gardens, which is a 125-acre park in Carmel that has the only twin bell towers in the entire world that are identical. It’s a popular place for weddings and special events.
The third of our iconic parks is Potter’s Bridge Park. Potter’s Bridge, the centerpiece of that park, is the only remaining historical covered bridge in Hamilton County.
Lastly, there is Cool Creek Park, a 100-acre park and nature center that has four miles of wooded trails, a baseball diamond, basketball courts, picnic shelters, and more.
Those are some of our most popular parks, but there are others as well.
What are some of the highlights of your professional career with Hamilton County Parks and Recreation?
The accomplishment I’m most proud of is surrounding myself with a great staff and team here at Hamilton County Parks. They’ve helped build many of the parks and facilities I just listed and they are truly an amazing asset to the county.
Another rewarding part of my job is being able to watch after a facility or amenity is completed and see how the community utilizes that space—sometimes in ways I never might have imagined it being used. I like to think of myself as helping to create spaces for people and families to create lifelong memories, so it is rewarding to see that happening.
As far as professional accomplishments go, I have been blessed to be president of our Indiana State Parks and Recreation Association, as well as our foundation. I also have continuously sat on the Indiana Parks and Recreation Association board of directors and I was selected by my professional peers from all across the county to become the National Parks and Recreation Association’s program chair for the national conference for Anaheim, California. That meant a lot to me that my peers selected me amongst anyone of their committee in a group of about 60 individuals.
What are your biggest challenges when it comes to maintaining the parks and facilities?
The biggest challenge that I face is hiring qualified staff that will continue to be with us for years and years and years. We don’t have very many full-time positions, so we truly devote a large majority of our maintenance operation to the part-time staff. That is very challenging from a management perspective to hire part-time individuals to do these jobs seasonally and year- round. That, and just trying to manage the budget are my biggest challenges.
What do you wish visitors knew about everything that goes on behind the scenes to maintain the Parks?
I wish they knew that it is a constant battle and struggle to keep the parks funded and maintained. The parks department is the only part of the government that is devoted to fun. People turn to green spaces for relief in times of stress and leisure, but they don’t always appreciate them when they don’t have an urgent need for them. However, maintaining the parks is something that must be done all the time, so I’d just like people to keep that in mind.
What advice would you give to other maintenance professionals working for public parks departments?
It’s a labor of love, and not the kind of job you do to get rich. It is rewarding being a part of maintaining something for the community, but you need to have a passion for it because the work isn’t always easy.
Are there any exciting plans for Hamilton County parks for 2017?
We will be opening a tubing & sledding slope in the winter of 2017. We’re bringing in snow machines and other equipment so that it will be a high-quality attraction for the entire Central Indiana region, so we’re very excited about that.
Many thanks to Chris for sharing all of the exciting things going on at the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Department. You can learn more about the many unique parks and facilities maintained by the department on their website, where you will also find information about how to support the parks through donations, sponsorships, dedications, and volunteer opportunities.