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Park District’s Executive Director, Jack C. Wilson, to retire this year

April 1, 2016

Legacy includes passage of bonds to improve parks, enhanced commitment to natural resources, expanded volunteer program, national accreditation

After 16 years leading Metro Parks Tacoma, Executive Director Jack C. Wilson has announced his intention to retire by September. “I have decided, after 43 years in the parks and recreation profession, to graduate to the next phase of my life,” Wilson wrote in a memo to the Board of Park Commissioners on Monday. 

Wilson came to Metro Parks in 1999 from Cincinnati, Ohio, to lead the independent park district. He is responsible for Metro Parks' senior administration and management of its 270 career employees and 750 seasonal or part-time employees. 

“Jack has had an extraordinary impact on the quality of life in Tacoma,” said Park Board President Erik Hanberg. “Thanks to his visionary leadership and community engagement, our parks and recreation programs are recognized as a model for park systems around the country. I wish him all the best in his retirement, and will always be thankful for his commitment to make Tacoma better.”

Wilson led a team of park and recreation professionals that transformed Tacoma’s park system. An early accomplishment was developing a partnership to renovate and transform Stewart Heights Pool. A year after his arrival, voters approved a sales tax that helped secure sustainable revenue to support the maintenance and operations of the district’s accredited Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. He then guided staff through a collaborative community process to develop the District’s first long-range strategic plan. This helped residents understand the need to ensure appropriate funding to care for the park system they envisioned. 

Wilson stated, “I’ve been both humbled and inspired to work in a community that had the foresight to establish a special park district which ensured that high quality parks and open space would be here for their children and generations to come.”

The community passed bond measures in 2005 and 2014 for a cumulative total of over $280 million for infrastructure and capital improvements, plus tens of millions in supporting grants and donations. Major projects of the 2005 bond included the Kandle Park wave pool; building the new STAR Community Center in South Tacoma; land acquisitions to increase public access to Wapato Park and the Tacoma Nature Center; developing the Zina Linnik Project at McCarver Park; building popular community spray grounds; and making upgrades to all neighborhood parks. 

Following the capital updates to neighborhood parks and facilities, the focus shifted to enhance the customer experience at Point Defiance Park. Tacoma voters supported the 2014 bond to enhance stewardship of the more than century-old park, including such projects as:
Replacing the half-century-old North Pacific Aquarium.
Completing the scenic trail and pedestrian overpass connecting Point Defiance to Ruston Way.
Developing the Environmental Learning Center at the Zoo in partnership with Tacoma Public Schools’ Science & Math Institute (SAMI).

Wilson’s legacy in Tacoma reflects his passion for nature and the environment. Through his development of the Natural Resources division the community has seen an enhanced commitment to urban forestry, expansion of trails, and the preservation, restoration and effective management of open space. During his tenure with the district, Citizens Helping Improve Parks (CHIP-in!) was created to activate civic engagement and deepen the public’s connection to nature. Each year, CHIP-in! participants contribute well over 50,000 hours volunteering to remove invasive species, plant trees and restore trails within Tacoma’s natural areas. 

The capstone of his career was the recent entry into an elite group of only 135 agencies out of 12,000 nationwide park systems that have obtained and maintained national accreditation. This honor awarded by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA) recognizes park and recreation agencies for excellence in operation and service.

During the course of his remaining six months with the district, Wilson will continue to position the agency to sustain its success. The Park Board will soon decide on a process for choosing his successor. 

“The Board is confident that Jack will ensure a smooth transition,” said Commissioner and Board Clerk Andrea Smith. “He has assembled a mission-driven team that is committed to tirelessly serving the community. We are grateful for his contribution and his amazing impact on Tacoma.”

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Contact:          
Michael Thompson, Public Information Officer, (253) 305-1092; michaelt@tacomaparks.com