75th anniversary "amazing" accomplishment for Johnson City Parks and Recreation

Jonathan Roberts • Updated May 15, 2019 at 1:17 PM

For Johnson City Parks and Recreation Director James Ellis, the department’s 75th anniversary represents more than just a milestone of longevity.

It’s also a hallmark of a community that truly supports what the department does — and has done for three quarters of a century.

Since its inception in 1944, Johnson City Parks and Recreation has come a long way: from having just a $12,600 budget ($183,000 with inflation) to operate two parks, a football field and a public pool to a nearly $6 million budget to operate 24 parks, one multigenerational community center, four recreation centers, a mountain bike park, six swimming pools and more than 20 other facilities in 2018.

To celebrate, the Parks and Recreation department will host a public celebration from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Memorial Park Community Center.

It’s also hosting an official ceremony on May 16 at Powell Square Park, where a time capsule will be buried, to be unveiled in 25 years. While the celebrations “couldn’t have come at a better time” Ellis said, they — similar to other projects Parks and Rec is pursuing — do more than just show the growth the department has seen since 1944.

“The support from the public, city management and our elected leaders (is most striking change since 1944) because without that, we wouldn’t have progressed like we have over the years,” Ellis said. “You’ve got to have the support from the community to make these things happen and we have been blessed with that.”

“It’s amazing (to celebrate 75 years),” he continued. “We’re very excited that the parks system has grown as much as it truly has over the years.”

Ellis also called the community support “tremendous,” saying the most rewarding part of being director is “seeing the number of opportunities our department as a whole is able provide to the public.”

Looking to the future, Ellis says there’s currently a shift in what the public is looking for from their local Parks and Recreation department, moving from athletic activities to outdoors adventure and exercise activities.

Recognizing that shift has helped Ellis and his staff to decide where they need to allocate their attention and money, with the department working on expansion of bike trails at existing parks, the acquisition of Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park and further additions of hiking and walking trails as a result.

That type of work — dictating the future of Parks and Rec — is why Ellis decided to leave his position as the department’s athletic director, a position he held for 25 years.

“I just thought ‘there’s a while before I’m able to retire and I’d like to be able to offer more and be more involved’,” he said.

Since becoming the director two years ago (and serving as the assistant director for five years before that), Ellis said his favorite accomplishment was the opening of Rotary Park and starting the planning for expansion of athletic facilities at Winged Deer Park.

“We’ve got a lot of really cool things that are slated to happen… there’s just a lot of things in the works for Parks and Rec, and I’m excited to see what the future holds,” said Ellis.

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