It’s how you might draw it up if you were building a noteworthy career in parks and recreation management in the Twin Cities:
On Oct. 11 in Richfield, where you’ve worked the past 20 years, you formally open a signature project – an off-road, bike-skills facility called Taft Bike Park – and five days later, you join the City of Eden Prairie as its new parks and recreation director.
This is the productive path taken by Amy Markle, whose leadership of the Eden Prairie Parks and Recreation Department began on Oct. 16 following the retirement of Jay Lotthammer. She becomes only the fourth parks and recreation director in the city’s history, following Marty Jessen and Bob Lambert, in addition to Lotthammer.
Her advancement has followed a logical route, from being drawn to parks as a child to working for the parks department in Rosemount as a teen. From her pursuit of an undergraduate degree to post-graduate work, including a doctorate where she researched equitable access to decision-making in urban park systems.
Gaps in the college school year meant work in Minnesota and Colorado state parks, and her first job after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point was with the National Park Service, working in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway for three years. There, she focused on environmental education with local schools, resource management on the river, wildlife surveys, and more. Additional federal assignments included working at the St. Louis Gateway Arch and fighting forest fires in Oregon and Montana.
Markle followed that by taking a position with the Woodlake Nature Center in Richfield, which involved environmental education, resource management, prairie restoration, grant writing, budget preparation, and more.
In 2019, she was hired as the City of Richfield’s recreation services director to replace a retiring city staffer, a position similar to what she will do in Eden Prairie. During her stint leading Richfield’s recreation services department, Markle oversaw projects, including the construction of the community’s first dog park and its first inclusive playground. She also led Richfield’s sustainability initiatives and spearheaded an effort to raise $24 million for improvements to the 150-acre Wood Lake Nature Center.
Before leaving for Eden Prairie, she helped the City of Richfield lay the foundation for a 2024 referendum that will ask residents to dedicate local sales-tax revenue toward recreation needs.
But, here, she’ll have oversight of a bigger operation.
In Richfield, she had a $2.25 million budget for parks and recreation and 17 full-time staffers. In Eden Prairie, she has a budget of nearly $15.5 million and about 37 full-time employees.
In Eden Prairie, she’ll oversee a parks and recreation system known for attracting new residents. Voters have historically supported parks referendums; 27 cents of every general-fund dollar spent by the city goes to parks and recreation; and each year the city’s liquor operation pumps about $800,000 into a capital-improvement fund that helps finance parks, both new projects and maintenance of the existing system.
Said Markle, “I wanted to be picky if I did move on from the previous role I had, and this just seemed like such a wonderful fit with a great community, and it’s a park system that is well-known outside Eden Prairie to be a premier park system. On a regional level and also nationally, it’s known to be one that’s really well-managed and supported.”
But also challenges
The added resources come with challenges. More than any previous Eden Prairie parks director, she will deal with an aging population, a changing climate, and an increasingly diverse Eden Prairie where residents don’t always have equal access to parks and recreation.
Markle says the key will be engaging residents about their wants and needs. Last month, she met with a group at the dog park and walked the trails with them, listening to their concerns.
But, some residents face barriers in sharing opinions or accessing facilities, so she’ll be exploring ideas such as QR codes, online opinion-sharing, and signage and materials in multiple languages.
“To make it easy and accessible is really important,” Markle said about getting resident feedback. “A lot of the standard open house from 5 to 6 doesn’t work for everyone.”
Ensuring that everyone in Eden Prairie has equitable access to facilities and programming, and expanding diverse and inclusive programming at facilities, parks, and events are two recommendations from the recent Race Equity Report prepared for the city.
Widespread engagement and participation are important, she says, because her vision and philosophy about parks and recreation management is about providing opportunities for everyone, regardless of age, background, or ability.
“We have something for everybody here,” she said last week. “We want to plug everybody into the awesome opportunities we offer as a recreation department.”
Markle, in her first six weeks on the job, has already been pleasantly surprised by the condition of Eden Prairie’s conservation areas.
That includes the Riley Creek Conservation Area, where a remnant of the Big Woods ecosystem exists. “When you walk through the woods, you really don’t feel you’re surrounded by a city,” she said. “It’s a very well-preserved, very well-managed Big Woods habitat, and that’s a really precious resource.”
And also the Prairie Bluff Conservation Area, which is 55 acres of protected remnant prairie. Said Markle: “You just don’t see this everywhere. It’s something we should be really excited and proud about, and protective over it.”
Excited and proud also seem to capture Markle’s thoughts about her new role.
“What an honor it is to be in this position,” she said. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to lead this talented team and help envision the future of the park system and maintain this high level of quality for generations to come.”
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