James Wiley has worked in parks and recreation departments for 26 years, serving as the director of the Parks and Recreation Department for the City of Elko for the past five years. Before becoming the director, Wiley was the superintendent for five years. He previously worked for the parks and recreation department in South Jordan, Utah, when he was attending Utah State University to study horticulture landscaping and maintenance.
In the following question-and-answer session, Wiley talks to the Elko Daily Free Press about what his typical day and duties are for all aspects of the parks system in Elko, upcoming events that the community can get involved in, and the future developments of the Sports Complex and Elko’s parks.
Did you attend college, and for what degree?
I went to college, but I don’t have a degree. I took a lot of schooling, and for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to complete the degree. I did a program through off-campus studies, and I continued to do those throughout a long time throughout my career. I would’ve had to move up to Logan, Utah, to finish my degree, and that just wasn’t in the works for me. I had a job, a family, a mortgage, and to move 150 miles up the road wasn’t part of my equation. I did gain a lot of knowledge and learned a ton through the program, but I just didn’t get the piece of paper that says you graduated.
When I started with parks and rec for the city of South Jordan it was a means to pay for my schooling. I started out in the parks department as a seasonal laborer, you know, grooming ball fields, cleaning restrooms, and emptying trash — all of that glamorous work that comes with park maintenance. I did that for maybe a year, and I really started to enjoy the work. It really helped me decide what field I wanted to go into for my schooling. I decided on going into horticulture landscaping and maintenance through Utah State University.
About that time, I was offered a full-time position at the parks department as a maintenance worker. They had a program over there that would reimburse you for your schooling in a related field. When I really decided that this was a field I wanted to study, and got all the answers to my questions about why this — why we do what we do— it all came together, and I stuck with parks and recreation.
What have you learned from previous positions that helped prepare you for Elko?
It’s all definitely a part of what I oversee now. It helps me to see what it takes to maintain our parks system. It’s helped me with construction projects since I understand how to go through a project, especially on the maintenance side. We don’t want to plan our projects to overburden our maintenance staff. We want to make wise decisions on how we maintain our parks system and reason on the tail end to make our maintenance as efficient as possible.
I also receive the golf course in addition to the parks system. It’s all relevant, even though there’s a few things different about maintaining a golf course.
We also work hand-in-hand with the recreation department, which works the program sides of things.
What is the staff that handles all of this maintenance like?
We have a superintendent. We have four full-time staff members. In the summer, we have four seasonal staff members. We also maintain the cemetery. That’s under the park’s department, and we have two full-time people up there. They perform burial services as well.
We could call ourselves a lean department, but, with that, we are extremely efficient for what we try to accomplish. It takes a lot of priorities set. You’re always being pulled in multiple directions. It’s important that you’re flexible and efficient so we can get done what we need to get done. We have really high standards for all that we maintain. I’d much rather have a lean team that’s really good at what they do, rather than a big team and not be able to produce what we do. I’m really proud of that.
What kind of maintenance is required of the parks staff?
The most obvious thing you see in Elko is the turf. There’s a lot of work that goes into that. There’s the mowing, the weed removal, the aeration, the fertilization and all of that stuff. We also have sports fields that require daily maintenance. Ball field grooming bits occur every day during the season, so those fields are nice, fit and safe to play on during the season so we can have a good time playing ball.
Then, you have to have water. Our irrigation systems are vast, so we spend a lot of time inspecting them and keeping those up and fine-tuned, so we can have nice healthy, green grass where you can see it.
We also have ‘street-scapes,’ little landscaping projects that are at entryways. A great example is at the Mountain City Highway. All those plantings along that are under our care, and [the ones in] the downtown corridor. It’s not just undeveloped dirt, but a whole gamut of landscaping that we do.
We also have a lot of trees. A lot of people take trees for granted. It takes a lot of maintenance to keep a healthy tree canopy throughout the city and parks system.
You have the not-so-fun stuff. We spend a lot of time doing trash control and disposal, and restrooms daily maintenance. We also have playground equipment out there that requires maintenance and inspections.
We also have undeveloped areas that are classified in parks system that are there for expansion. We also have to maintain them and their native species, and deal with invasive species. Many incidences, you need to keep that vegetation there at an acceptable level. All of this is immersed within that.
Walk me, and the readers, through your typical day as a director.
The first thing I do is that I like to greet my staff here. I usually come here and sit down at my desk, and I usually have a lot of emails to read and phone messages to address. We do handle calls from citizens’ requests or concerns that we may have. Every day can be a little different.
I do have a lot of meetings that I have to attend regarding parks and recreation and departments of the city. We all have to work together with the city. There’s also my routine things I need to attend to, such as city council meetings twice a month, and we also have advisory board that I need to coordinate meeting times with, topics to address, and actions to be taken on them.
Other than that, I’m a hands-on guy. If any of my departments need a hand with something, I go and give them my assistance. If the pool needs assistance, I go over there. If Joe in the parks department needs a hand putting up a scoreboard, I’ll go help him do that. That’s pretty routine throughout the growing season.
The biggest key is it’s nice to have a plan, but you have to be flexible as that plan could change at the snap of a finger. I could be running to the pool, golf course, or the city manager may have something come up I need to attend to. If any of my departments need a hand with something, I go and give them my assistance.
During the winter, we’re in planning mode for the upcoming season with budgets. We’re coming into our budget season now, so we’re starting to plan out our budget for our 2018-2019 season based on how our budget looks and our priorities.
What departments do you work with in the City of Elko?
We mostly work with our engineering department, development department, and even more with our public works department. I report directly to the city manager. I interact with him on almost a daily basis. We have revenues and expenses that need to be reported to finance daily.
I’m working with the fire department now to do a controlled burn on the HARP trail. It’s occurring right now, and, as long as the weather holds out, or until it gets done, I hope to have that wrapped up by the end of the month [of November]. I spend time working with the police chief on other managerial issues, and, sometimes things occur in the park, and law enforcement needs to be involved.
We’re just one spoke on the wheel of the city. The cool thing about Elko is that all of the departments have this great teamwork philosophy to get what we all need to get done throughout the city.
What should the parks department expect for the following year in the 2018 budget?
It is always our goal to stay within budget. Our budget process will start around January and have meeting with advisory board, and we prioritize with projects within five-year plans and go from there.
There’s a lot of planning that goes in [the budget such as] capital equipment, and maintenance equipment .... It’s a big process that takes a couple of months to get through.
The interesting thing in these past few years is this Sports Complex. That has been our priority because it has such a significant project with a big price tag on it. The Sports Complex has been in the works for five years — the biggest parks and recreation project to date. There’s a lot of moving parts before we can pull this off. Too many to count. I suspect that will be our case for the next two seasons until we get this project finished.
You always start in a master planning and conceptual phase in a year, gather lots of public input and incorporate it with a plan, and come up with a conceptual design. Then, once you come up with a conceptual design, then you get the engineering to actually design it, which takes a year or two to get through. That’s where you’ll see a lot of moving parts. It’s vast. It’s not just going and plopping a ballfield out there. You’ve got to think about utilities, and in this case, it being down by the river. There’s wetlands mitigation that need to occur. Parking lots, lighting, utilities, and all of that stuff you don’t usually associate with playing baseball or softball is part of the project. It’s a lot of information to pull together to pull off a successful project.
What are the upcoming events in the parks and recreation department that the citizens of Elko should know about?
This Friday is our family skate night. We do this event every Friday, except in the summer months. I think it starts at 5 and goes until 9. It’s a very popular event that we’ve been doing for a couple years now. We collaborate with the Roller Derby Girls and utilize the Igloo. They allow us to come in once a month to have a family skate night event. The Roller Derby Girls rent out the skates, and all they ask for is a donation for them.
That comes back to collaboration. To do events, we have to collaborate with others to put them on. It’s not like we have our own facility to put them on ourselves. We work a lot with outside groups and organizations to pull these events off.
We also do what we call Santa’s Workshop at Snowflake Festival. We do that event over in the Western Folklife Center. There will be crafts, art, and games, and of course, Santa will be there for that.
We’re also in the process of taking registration for our adult basketball league, which will start after the first of the year. We utilize high school gyms for that. It’s a lot of fun.
Probably the biggest one of the winter season — we’re this close to getting the deed written — is owning the SnoBowl. The City of Elko is going to take ownership of that, and we’re going to manage that for wintertime recreation.
We’re going to be taking registration for snowboard and ski lessons, which will begin after the start of the year. We typically open up in January for that. We will be starting open skiing on weekends, so you can purchase your passes up there or down here at the office. We’re just waiting for some snow right now.
The golf course is closed for the season. However, you can go play the winter course. We have some pinholes set up so you can still play up there until the snow flies.
Once we get snow up there, we’ll be grooming it for cross country skiing. We have a cross country course up there that people can go have fun on. It goes around all 18 holes of the golf course, and it’s a good course. We just need snow for that.
The pool right now has all of their daily activities such as lap swimming, water aerobics, bike swimming, and we do have some open swim times for anyone in the public who wants to open swim.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
As a director, the most satisfying thing is that I’m not out there doing all of the work myself. I have a big team around me, and seeing them out there being successful at what they do is where I get the most satisfaction from this job.
I think it all comes back to why we have parks and recreation. The idea is that recreation is supposed to be fun and healthy. It’s an enjoyable aspect in one’s life in every aspect of what we do. To be a part of that, to give people an opportunity to do something that they wouldn’t normally do, and to have those opportunities here, is very satisfying for me.