Celebrating 30 Years of Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation
Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation has accomplished much in its first 30 years. What do the next 30 years hold? While we can’t tell the future, with Michael Klitzing at the helm, the organization is sure to continue its legacy of greatness.
Klitzing has worked with CCPR since 2003 and was named director in 2019. In that short time, the department went on to win its second consecutive National Gold Medal for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.
To celebrate this year’s milestone, Klitzing took a moment to reflect on his time with CCPR over its 30-year history – how it started, the legacy he hopes to leave, and his thoughts on the next 30 years.
Q&A with Michael Klitzing
When did you first get involved with Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation and why? What was your role?
My first role with Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation was in 2003 as a consultant working on the Central Park Master Plan, which guided the initial development of the park, Monon Community Center, and The Waterpark. My primary role was to help prepare the preliminary pro forma for the park and facilities and provide recommendations regarding facility design and operations.
While attending a two-day planning meeting for Central Park, I discovered that CCPR was creating the new position of Assistant Director. While I had not seen the job description and had no idea what the position paid, I could see the potential for something special in Carmel and wanted to be a part of creating a world-class park system. I was hired in July 2004 and went to work quickly to develop the business plan for the Monon Community Center while overseeing operations of the department. It was the best career decision I have ever made and since December 2019 I have been honored to serve as fifth Director of Parks and Recreation for one of the best park systems in the country.
What would you say is Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation’s biggest accomplishment? What are you most proud of?
During the past 17 years, I have been fortunate to work with an incredible team of professionals while helping guide the growth and development of the department. When I started, I was the 11th full-time employee and CCPR had an annual operating budget of less than $2 million over 80% funded by tax dollars. Today we are a nationally accredited, two-time National Gold Medal Award winning agency, employ over 500 people with over a $15 million budget that is now 80% self-funded, and serve over 17 million visitors annually throughout the park system. I am truly proud of this transformation and the tremendous impact CCPR makes on our community.
What do you hope Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation will accomplish in the next 30 years?
Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation has achieved great success in its first 30 years through its commitment to incorporating public input into our planning efforts, which allows us to deliver on our community’s vision for the park system. We have also fostered a culture of innovation and a desire to continually raise the bar in providing outstanding parks and recreational services. Together, this positions us well for success in on next 30 years.
I firmly believe CCPR will continue to reimagine parks and recreation, innovating and evolving to fulfill the needs of our ever-changing environment and community. Just as the park system looks significantly different than it did 30 years ago when we started with 3 parks and 40 acres, I have no doubt CCPR will continue to be transformed, building upon what we have accomplished to achieve new and higher successes.
Which park is your favorite to visit?
Asking the Director of a park system this question is like asking a parent who is your favorite child? Each one is unique and special in its own way. That said, there are two existing parks that have extra special meaning to me.
The East Woods in Central Park is a place I love to walk and experience nature. When we were constructing the trails originally, I would take Endo (my Yellow Labrador) out to “inspect” the trails. Every time we went out there, she would jump up on the big round rock by the Carmel Creek overlook. It was also the very last place we visited before she passed away. Today I now enjoy “inspecting” the trails with Doey, my 8-year-old Lab, continuing the tradition I started with Endo.
I also have a special connection with River Heritage Park. The very first time I explored this park, I wanted to see us develop trails so people could see and experience White River. It felt almost wrong that there were no official trails to get to the namesake of the park. Additionally, I love that this park was the first in our park system, and one of the earliest in the state, to have a playground specifically designed for children with disabilities. Thanks to the Clay Township Impact Program, we will soon be developing new, fully accessible nature trails to provide people of all abilities the opportunity to enjoy the views that inspired me on my first visit. They may also be able to spot wildlife, like the White Tail Deer bounding through the woods or four Bald Eagles I saw flying over the river when helping plot the route for the trails and a new river overlook.
Share a Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation memory or story that makes you laugh.
The very first time I visited River Heritage Park, I explored the woods to the White River with Mark Westermeier, our Director at the time. As indicated above, this visit had a strong impact on me, but even more so than previously stated. Since there were no official trails, we followed some social trails, and where there were none, forged our own way to get to the river. In the process, I had the pleasure of coming into contact with my least favorite native plant – Poison Ivy! Despite being highly allergic to PI (as my parks team calls it), and paying the consequences of wearing shorts that day, I still love the park. I at least learned the lesson to wear hiking pants when exploring uncharted areas of the park system!
Why do you believe parks + recreational opportunities are important for the community?
Before pursuing a career in parks and recreation, I worked as a loan officer for a large national bank, a position I did not find personally rewarding. One of my best memories during this time was when I visited a nearby park and hiked trails overlooking Lake Michigan. Just as my park adventures served as a welcome escape for me, both during by old banking days and ever since, parks and recreation has similar impacts on people every day and positively impacts our quality of life. It’s about the incredible experiences and lifelong memories that makes parks and recreation so special.
What does Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation mean to you?
Every day people chose to spend their discretionary time and income with Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation, something that cannot be said for most government services. It is truly an honor to help lead an institution in our community that positively impacts the lives of so many people.
What’s one thing you wish the community knew or think the community should know about Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation?
Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation is successful because of people. The inspiration for our park system was the result of concerned citizens and grassroots efforts to preserve green space in a rapidly growing community. The ongoing success has been the result of a community that supports parks and recreation, elected officials that recognize the value of parks and recreation and provides the necessary funding to create a world-class park system, a Park Board (past and present) that has set an inspiring vision for parks and recreation, and a truly outstanding staff that is committed to excellence and creating lasting memories for the people we serve.
It is truly an honor to help lead an institution in our community that positively impacts the lives of so many people. Michael Klitzing, Current Director of Carmel Clay Parks & Recreation
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.