March 2020 Spotlight Professional

Doug Nelson – Executive Director of Peninsula Metropolitan Park District (PenMet Parks)

Describe the scope of your position in parks and recreation.   

As the Executive Director of Peninsula Metropolitan Park District (PenMet Parks) I oversee district-wide operations in the unincorporated areas of the Greater Gig Harbor Peninsula. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with our district, we manage approximately 700 acres of park properties between the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the Purdy Bridge (excluding Gig Harbor city limits). Currently with 20 full-time employees, contracted instructors, and various temporary helpers PenMet Parks operates a great mix of parks, open space, trails, facilities, and recreation programs. Our District has five elected Park Board commissioners, and I function as the operational conduit between the Board and staff. I have six direct -report staff members that manage the following divisions; maintenance, construction, capital & planning, recreation, finance & HR, and marketing.

Read about how Penmet is dealing with COVID-19.

How long have you been with your present agency? 

I started with PenMet on Monday, December 9, 2019 – so I’ve been on the job for a little over three months.

Background experience and previous careers?

Prior to coming to PenMet Parks, I worked for the City of Federal Way in the Parks and Recreation Department—first as the community center supervisor for seven years and then transitioned to recreation/community center manager for six years. With a great team of co-workers, I managed operations at a 72,000 sq. ft. recreation and fitness center complete with two indoor pools, rental space, gymnasium, climbing pinnacle, indoor track, fitness room, classes, and more. When I transitioned to be a recreation manager I increased my role with recreation oversite and more involvement with overall park operations.

My first 13 years in parks and recreation were with Metro Parks Tacoma. I worked primarily as a fitness coordinator at the Center at Norpoint, but I made every effort possible to get involved with anything and everything.

What were some of your first jobs, and what did you learn from them?

I had several unique jobs when I was young; summertime laborer for contractors and landscapers; worked at McDonald’s in Anchorage, AK and also worked in a gold mine in Central, Alaska. Most importantly, I learned the value of hard work, passion, dedication, and building relationships.

Why are you passionate about the parks and recreation field?

I am a product of the parks and recreation environment. As far back as I can remember, my family was always hiking, camping, biking, participating in team sports, singing, performing—you name it. I am truly blessed to be part of a profession that provides opportunities similar to ones I had growing up. We absolutely create community by bringing people together in meaningful ways. When it comes to improving quality of life nothing beats parks and recreation. It is my life’s passion to work in this field!

What has been your biggest professional challenge? 

Opening and operating the Federal Way Community Center was a huge challenge. There were many obstacles to overcome and high expectations to be met. Thankfully, I worked with a great staff and supportive colleagues to produce a highly successful operation.

What’s the best advice you can give to someone starting out in the field of parks and recreation? 

Build relationships with your co-workers and customers, find ways to get involved with as many aspects of the field as you can, and feed your quest for learning early and often – is that a great plug for the WRPA Conference or what?!?!

How Penmet is dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus? (Comment from March 19, 2020)

Based on current events pertaining to the COVID-19 coronavirus; including government and health agency recommendations, PenMet Parks postponed or canceled recreation and sports programs, special events, and rentals effective on the close of business Friday, March 13th. Our parks, trails, and beaches have remained open.  We are very fortunate on the Gig Harbor Peninsula and in our District to have many open space and trail options for people to visit and stay active. The members of our recreation staff have been busy producing on-line activity options for our constituents.

Here are some of the ideas that we have instituted or in the process of developing; on-line coloring contest—draw your favorite park (we are already getting submittals), coaching and training videos for our athletics participants, many recreational take-home kits (egg hunt, gardening, arts, crafts) which can still include sponsor logos to keep them engaged and happy!