Leader Blues

Monday, July 13, 2009

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville parks director named

Leader staff writer

A familiar face was chosen to lead the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department. Kristen Griggs, who was serving as interim director, was hired on Thursday as director.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher surprised Griggs with the announcement under the guise of a second interview.

Fletcher said there were 22 applicants for the director position. Of those, four were selected to be interviewed. The interview panel consisted of the mayor, city human resources director Jill Ross and Bobby Altom, Parks and Recreation Commission chairman.

“We had good interviews with everybody. The decision was a unanimous choice,” Fletcher said. “I stand behind the decision.”

The mayor said he had concerns with Griggs, 27, being young. But he said she more than compensated for her youth with her enthusiasm, vision and a deep passion for the department.

“She was futuristic in her plans for the department. She expressed ideas on how to make the department grow. She wants to carry it to a new level and has a desire to make it the best in the state,” Fletcher continued.

The mayor said Griggs has ideas for the department. She now has the ability to apply for grants. In college, Griggs wrote a thesis on how to generate revenue specifically for the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department.

Altom said, “I am excited about it. Under her leadership we are on our way of becoming the premier parks and recreation department in the state. That is due not only to her capabilities, but the excellent staff that is already on board.”

For the past two months Griggs has served as interim parks and recreation director. Former director George Biggs resigned from the position in April after city officials learned that he is a convicted felon.

Griggs will oversee 44 full-time and part-time employees and 20 seasonal employees. The parks and recreation department has 12 parks, the community center, the Martin Street Youth Center and Splash Zone water park.

Griggs is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville. She graduated from Jacksonville High School in 2000.

She grew up playing T-ball, fast-pitch softball and volleyball. Her late father, Dr. Donald Griggs, a dentist, was on the Parks and Recreation Commission for 10 years. He passed away three years ago.

Griggs said as a child she would go with her father to the city’s parks. She went to the Marshall Street Youth Center and attended special events including the Easter egg hunts.

“I saw every park in the city,” she said.

After high school Griggs attended the University of Central Arkansas in Conway to study early childhood education. After completing her freshman year, Griggs worked during the summer at the Martin Street Youth Center.

She was an activities monitor working under program services manager Cathy Brand, who oversaw programs and special events.

“I fell in love with parks and recreation after working that summer,” Griggs said.

She changed schools and her focus of study. Griggs went to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in community and sports recreation. She recently completed her master’s degree in sports administration in May.

Griggs said Biggs was a mentor through college and when she became a full-time employee at the parks and recreation department.

Griggs was a fitness specialist for parks and recreation from August 2005 to April 2007. She then became program services manager in April 2007, when Brand retired. Griggs said she’s achieved a longtime goal.

“My ultimate goal was to be the director of the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department. Everything I have done is to prepare myself for this position,” Griggs explained.

She said the parks and recreation department will eventually provide something for everyone.

“Parks is not just sports or the community center. There are a wide variety of activities, events, programs and facilities that we could offer. Mayor Fletcher and I are forward thinkers, always looking for ways to improve our park system,” she said.

Griggs continued, “I am very passionate about parks and recreation and I am passionate about Jacksonville. Those two things I feel make me ideal for this position.

“I want to see our department grow. I want the department to work as a team and working towards a goal. That is what motivates people,” she said.

Looking toward the future, Griggs said the parks and recreation department is about to do a feasibility study for rebuilding the Martin Street Youth Center.

She is looking toward specialty classes to generate revenue for the parks and recreation department from registration and facilities use. Griggs gave cake decorating, martial arts and Spanish lessons as examples of possible classes.

Griggs and parks and recreation marketing manager Marlo Jackson have been working together applying for a land acquisition and development grant.

The goal is to acquire land to move the skate park from its temporary site beside the community center to the wooded area near the playground off Redmond Road near Dupree Park.

A farmers market and a walking track are planned to be built near the skateboard park.