As administrators of county government, it is the job of the Board of Commissioners to appoint, supervise and provide policy direction to department directors. In turn, these directors have the responsibility of implementing policy and ensuring their departments are good stewards of the public’s trust by operating efficiently and effectively, and within a strong legal and ethical framework.

With fewer financial resources, smaller staffs and increasing regulatory compliance requirements, the Board of Commissioners has pushed departments to become more creative in seeking out new funding opportunities and to be more innovative in how they deliver services. County departments have taken on and met this challenge, but none more so than the Douglas County Parks Department.

Parks Director Rocky Houston manages 2,800 acres of parks in Douglas County on behalf of the citizens of Douglas County and has been a steady hand in guiding the department through a remarkable transformation. He has spearheaded a process of continuous improvement that is leading to a better way to both sustain and manage our county parks system.

The work that Rocky has done to revitalize our county parks in his short tenure includes implementing numerous innovative solutions to increase efficiencies as well as bringing in approximately $2.7 million dollars in grants (with another $2.5 million dollars pending) to support developments and improvements to the parks. We would like to think all of our decisions go this well, but certainly investing in a full-time parks director was the right decision and hiring Rocky Houston was the right choice. These decisions have and will continue to pay significant dividends to the citizens of Douglas County.

To understand where the Douglas County Parks system is today, it is important to first know where it was. The Douglas County Parks system has been in operation since 1950, with most of the park development occurring between 1950 and 1980 during the height of the county’s receipt of timber revenues. We currently have a portfolio of 70 properties, which include 42 day-use areas, 23 boat ramps and 10 campgrounds.

Since the 1980s, the county’s receipt of timber revenues have been dwindling, resulting in less and less funding for our parks. The lack of funding lead to cut backs in the department, including reduced staffing, a part-time director position and numerous projects being placed on deferred maintenance status. By 2016, the funding from the county’s general fund had been reduced to zero. The bottom line was our parks system was headed in the wrong direction and the county needed a new plan.

Thus, the Board of Commissioners made the decision to invest in a full-time parks director, who would be tasked with finding a better business model to revitalize our parks system. After a thorough two-month recruitment and interview process, in July 2016 the Douglas County Board of Commissioners appointed Rocky Houston as the Douglas County Parks Director.

Rocky has a long list of accomplishments and over the past three years he has addressed concerns with solutions, including attaining grants to improve the usability and safety of our parks. He has made good staffing decisions which have led to reduced costs and greater efficiency. He has been creative in addressing overdue deferred maintenance projects, such as refurbishment of the Windy Cove Crabbing and Fishing Dock, Amacher and Hestness boat ramp replacements, new restrooms at Windy Cove A & B campgrounds and installation of a new upper playground at River Forks Park.

With his new project management model, Rocky is re-directing funds to projects that produce a higher return on investment. He has been a problem solver, which is evident by the development of a creative approach to hawthorn bush management and removal at a local park utilizing volunteers, a partnership with BLM and animal grazing leases. And lastly, he is a hands-on leader and is often seen working alongside his staff cutting grass, setting up concrete forms and trail breaking. All of this was completed with an overarching goal of increasing the publics’ safe and enjoyable use of our county parks system.

As a result of all of his hard work, Rocky and his staff received the Oregon Recreation and Parks Association’s (ORPA) 2018 Outstanding Asset Management Award for exceptional management, maintenance, enhancement, and/or programming of an existing park, trail, natural area, recreation, and/or aquatic facility over time. This is the first time that Douglas County’s Parks Department has received this honor.

Needless to say, Rocky is passionate about our parks and creating an environment that is sustainable for future generations to come. We look forward to seeing what future projects emerge from his leadership. He is more than the Douglas County Parks Director, he is a champion for our county and we are proud to be able to support his efforts.

Tim Freeman is a Douglas County commissioner

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