Thursday, August 24, 2000

Mason fills post of park director

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — The search to replace longtime Parks and Recreation Director Paul Walsh reached all the way to Alaska. And the person city officials found is from their own back yard.

        Michael Hecker, director of parks, culture and recreation in Unalaska, Alaska, will take over for Mr. Walsh, who quit in May for a job in Westerville. Mr. Hecker, a native of Kettering near Dayton, will start at a salary of $57,000 a year. He is expected to make the 10-hour flight from Alaska to Ohio to join the parks and recreation staff Sept. 25.

        “This is the first time I've ever hired anybody from

        Alaska,” said City Manager Scot Lahrmer with a chuckle. “I'm sure he will bring an interesting perspective to Mason.”

        Mr. Hecker, 40, said he looks forward to returning to the state where he was born and raised. He will head up a budding parks system in Ohio's second-fastest growing city.

        “I have a lot of fond memories of Ohio,” he said. “I grew up with the Reds in the 1970s. In fact, one of my first jobs was at Kings Island as a ride operator.

        “It's unbelievable for me when I look at that area and all the growth that has taken place there since I was a kid,” said Mr. Hecker. “Mason was once a little country burg outside of Cincinnati. Now it's a growing city of its own.”

        Mason's population leaped from 11,450 in 1990 to 18,850 in 1998, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was a 65 percent increase in less than 10 years.

        Parks and recreation officials say resident interest in recreational programming has grown equally quickly. Last year, the parks department reported that participation in activities such as youth football, baseball and soccer was at an all-time high.

        The department, which operates on a $3.2 million budget, spends about $700,000 a year to operate about 250 acres of parkland in six parks.

        Mr. Hecker will be responsible for overseeing the operation and maintenance of the parks, as well as helping to develop the new community recreation center.


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