Celebrating 30 Years of Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation
Vision. Community. Innovation. Servant leadership. A few words to describe the focus of Mark Westermeier’s 15 years as Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation’s Executive Director. Under his leadership, the department grew exponentially, opened the doors to several parks and facilities, founded its adaptive program for individuals with disabilities, and won its first Gold Medal for Excellence in Park & Recreation Management…to name a few accomplishments. At the root of every accomplishment was a desire to provide an outstanding experience for each person who visited and worked at a CCPR park or facility.
Westermeier’s time at the helm was nothing short of transformational for the department and the community. What was a burgeoning park system is now an industry leader, setting the standard for park systems across the country.
To celebrate this year’s milestone, Westermeier took a moment to reflect on his time with CCPR over its 30-year history – how it started, the legacy he left, and his thoughts on the next 30 years.
Q&A with Mark Westermeier
How (and why) did you first get involved with Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation?
I initially became involved with Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation as a consultant and interim director to assist the Carmel Clay Board of Parks and Recreation and staff to begin preparing for the construction of Central Park and the Monon Community Center (what was then called The Monon Center). It didn’t take very long to know that I had found an organization that I believed in so much I wanted to stay involved to help others in making our community better.
30 years ago, what role did parks play in the community?
Carmel Clay Parks was a very new idea to the community 30 years ago, the original and early Park Board members worked tirelessly to promote parks to both the community and elected officials. Oftentimes they were the staff that took on projects from construction to community input and awareness programs. Parks would not be what it is today without those board members who wouldn’t give up, they were unselfish in putting parks ahead of themselves and their business giving freely of their time and dedication to the park system without compensation.
What would you say is Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation’s biggest accomplishment? What are you most proud of?
Carmel Clay Parks has been blessed with so many accomplishments during its existence but at its core, success has been through the advocacy of the community. Very little could have been achieved without their continued support. And when I say community that is of course the residents, elected officials, business owners, staff, vendors, and park visitors. Earning and keeping the trust of the community to allow us to take chances, grow, innovate, and stretch the limits of what parks and recreation could accomplish is without a doubt the department’s biggest accomplishment.
What do you hope Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation will accomplish in the next 30 years?
It is hard to imagine where Carmel Clay Parks might be in another 30 years. I hope they will continue the path forward in innovation, planning, and leading the overall community of parks and recreation, while still providing for the changing needs of our own community. One key initiative our early Park Board members urged was that we find and fill the unfilled needs within the community. Many of our early initiatives were based on this premise. We did large community events, like the children’s concerts, adult concerts, Easter egg hunts, and so many other activities. But as other organizations began to emulate what we were doing, we allowed them to grow with others as we moved on to the next unfilled need. Within our organization, this wasn’t by accident, rather by design and was and will continue to be a driver of success for the next 30 years.
Which park is your favorite to visit?
I love them all and each one has a special and unique memory for me, but the one I last visited is my favorite until the next one I visit.
What’s your fondest memory over the last 30 years?
Without a doubt, my fondest memory and what I miss the most is spending time with staff and listening to their ideas for new programs, a better way to serve the public, the next waterpark feature, ways to better support each other, and identifying an unfilled need in the community. Each and every staff member has a unique outlook and experience to share, I miss those times we all shared together.
Share a Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation memory or story that makes you laugh.
I imagine one of the funniest stories was a day I was walking around the lagoon in Central Park. Two young mothers with their children were feeding crackers to the ducks, not a practice we encourage but so much fun for the children! As I approached the group I heard a couple of the children complaining that they didn’t like the crackers right after which one mother turned to the other and said, “look even the ducks won’t eat your gluten-free crackers.”
What does Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation mean to you?
Carmel Clay Parks has so many different meanings to me. But the overriding meaning is the creation of memories for our community and visitors. For children it may be an ESE program at school, a summer camp, making friends, learning about nature and as they become older perhaps a first kiss, romantic walks in a park, watching their children discover the wonders of nature, family walks, stomping in a creek, geo-caching, flow riding and dreaming of the ocean as their next adventure. A sense of community where all people can come together and experience parks in their own way, with their own special abilities where all people are equal.
What’s one thing you wish the community knew (or think the community should know) about Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation?
I wish the community could know how hard each and every staff member works to create wonderful experiences for our visitors, where we talk about how to improve the visitor experience rather than how to make it easier on staff. And how much dedication our staff has to the environment, diversity, our visitors, and each other.
During the time you served as Director, what was CCPR’s biggest priority?
The biggest priority we had when I was director was a high level of cost recovery which was a mandate from the Park Board, elected officials, and an expectation of many in our community. We however always tried to balance that with many other factors. Safety of all park visitors was always at the top of the list along with the user experience. We found that best environmental practices often lead to long-term cost recovery, something not readily apparent. We focused too to ensure that our programs were and are the best value for those willing to invest in our programs or visit the water park or allow us to care for their children in the ESE program and summer camps. We have many checks and balances in the management plans to not allow cost recovery to foreshadow all else, after all, we are in the business of creating memories.
I wish the community could know how hard each and every staff member works to create wonderful experiences for our visitors, where we talk about how to improve the visitor experience rather than how to make it easier on staff.Mark Westermeier
Written By: Jylian Riches
Jylian is the Marketing Content Coordinator for Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation. She oversees the Department’s social media and has written the creative for numerous marketing publications and campaigns.