May the Coming Year Bring Success to You!

Spotlight Professional in Parks & Recreation - Lynn Zwaagstra

  Describe the scope of your position in parks and recreation.
  In my current position, I oversee parks maintenance and operations, recreation, human services,      youth services, community services and the Greek Kirkland Partnership.

  How long have you been with your present agency?
  I started here with the City of Kirkland in May 2016.

  Can you share more about your background experience and previous careers?
  My parks and recreation career prior to Kirkland spanned 25 years and included all aspects of the industry from outdoor recreation to special event planning to fitness and aquatics. I was fortunate enough to oversee a variety of amenities, including marinas, Nordic centers, an adventure park, ice arenas, camp grounds, sports fields and recreation centers. From age 18, I knew I was interested in the profession due to an amazing experience with the National Outdoor Leadership School. That encouraged me to seek both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in parks and recreation administration. I tried a variety of jobs and obtained numerous different certifications. While not all of them were of interest long term, it helped to solidify my knowledge base, for which I am forever grateful.

What were some of your first jobs, and what did you learn from them?
I had 3 early experiences that shaped my professional interests. During my bachelor’s degree, I served as the Outdoor Recreation Coordinator at Illinois State University where I was able to oversee outdoor recreation trips. Through hundreds of hours of trip leadership and oversight of trip coordinators, I was able to develop improved communication and leadership skills. During that time, I also worked at a local municipal parks and recreation district at their farm and stables doing customer service where I learned how to serve people with a smile (Yep, a bit of mucking out the stables, too.). For my full-time internship, I served as the outdoor recreation intern for Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. In that position, I did everything from campground maintenance and upkeep to management of the rental center. There, I started to develop a love for the outdoors as well as appreciation for administrative work like budget management and supervision.  During my career, I saved swimmers in distress, watched an improperly secured special event tent blow away leaving gnarled metal in its wake, secured facilities for looming hurricanes, and inspected the magic carpet for opening day of a tubing hill and terrain park. Each and every experience taught me valuable lessons that I hold with me for life.

Why are you passionate about the parks and recreation field?
Simply speaking, we change people’s lives. There is nothing more important than our health and wellness. Through exposure to parks and recreation, we are able to achieve a greater sense of health and wellness. We know that physical activity has benefits related to weight management, improved mood, ability to sleep, improved cardiovascular health, and decreased risk of chronic disease. Recreation programs get people active and we also engage people in lifelong learning. Parks have similar benefits for similar reasons, but even just being in green space without being physically active has physical and psychological benefits. Living in proximity to parks not only provides these benefits but has the added benefit of increasing property value. Serving our mission and positively impacting people is incredibly rewarding. Seeing young folks choose a career in this industry based upon their interaction with industry professionals, allows us to impact the next generation.  That is doubly rewarding.

What has been your biggest professional challenge?
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in many different types of projects and initiatives that have provided opportunity for growth and development. While challenging, that tends to come with just as much reward. Some direction I’ve received in the past has also been challenging due to questionable legality or ethics. With thought and effort, a solution is usually available. So the thing that tends to challenge me most is the day-to-day reality of not having enough resources to effectively meet the health and wellness needs of the community. Over time, I’ve learned that this is a long-term endeavor; incremental progress is the name of the game!

What’s the best advice you can give to someone starting out in the field of parks and recreation?
Be willing to go above and beyond to try new things, learn new skills or branch out into a different area of the profession. If you approach your job from a “punch the time clock” mentality, you will limit your own growth, development and future opportunity. Regrets in life tend to fall into the category of things we don’t do or try, not things we do.