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5 questions with retiring Johnson City parks official, Jim Hughes

David Floyd • Mar 22, 2020 at 8:32 PM

Raised in Johnson City, Jim Hughes ultimately spent decades helping to preserve city-sponsored golf in our area.

Hughes has worked for Johnson City for more than 30 years, starting out as director of golf maintenance before moving on to director of golf and ultimately interim assistant parks director in 2018. He officially retired in early March and was recognized with a proclamation during a City Commission meeting on March 5.

“You’ve just been a wonderful citizen to the community, a great employee and certainly a wonderful friend,” City Manager Pete Peterson told Hughes.

As he leaves the organization, Hughes said he’s excited about the programming and potential of the new Langston Centre, upgrades to the learning center at Pine Oaks Golf Course and the emphasis on developing trails and other enhancements at Buffalo Mountain Park.

You grew up in Johnson City. Did that have an impact on your decision to work for the city?

“Yes it did, but more than anything, a discussion with golf professional Lee Campbell and City Manager John Campbell made my decision easy. As one who grew up at Pine Oaks Golf Course, I always felt like there was potential. However, their vision and a game plan of where golf could move to starting out in the late ’80s and early ’90s was very impressive. This was the golf boom that we happened to ride in Johnson City. We had a mechanism for funding improvements within the golf department, and it was obvious that the future was bright, even with talks of building or owning numerous golf courses by city government.”

Were you a big golf fan growing up? What drew you to the sport?

“Yes, I started playing golf the first year that Pine Oaks Golf Course opened up. At that time it was actually known as the Johnson City Municipal Golf Course with only what we currently think of as the back nine. Most of the kids that grew up in the South Side community were only blocks away from that property, subsequently many of us learned to play golf because it was in our backyard. Golf was also one of those things you saw people like James Bond playing — like in the ‘Goldfinger’ movie. And it just had an air about it — being kind of cool and something that was not average. Not to say that most of us loved football, basketball and baseball, but this was just another added activity that we could enjoy.”

What's the greatest challenge the Parks and Recreation Department is facing right now?

“As of this correspondence (on March 16), the coronavirus has changed life as we know it. We hope that this is just a short-term effect on all of us, but it could have long-reaching financial repercussions with the Parks and Recreation department. Funding is always one of the largest challenges for the department. Not to mention risk management. Everything that you do in recreation has a potential lawsuit with it, which is really a shame. Anytime people are active things can happen and some of those are not always good. Every time we have an event it is closely scrutinized and has an enormous amount of emergency planning that goes with it. Every playground feature that is out there goes through lots of testing and underwriting. And of course all our employees have to go through enormous training and background checks, which is proper but it all adds up to big bucks.”

Looking back, what city projects or initiatives are you most proud of? Why?

“Of course the biggest source of pride has been the maintaining of municipal golf in Johnson City. Even though we shut down Buffalo Valley Golf Course, a lot of effort has gone into upgrading Pine Oaks Golf Course. The second-most-enjoyable project has been the development of a mountain biking program, moving forward on other bicycling programs, improvements to bicycling friendly standards and some of the other advancements concerning cycling within our community. This is an activity that I’ve always enjoyed, and I’m very proud to see it grow to the magnitude of which we are hopefully taking it in Johnson City.”

How have the city's recreation offerings changed over the years? Have you seen any trends in how people use those facilities?

“The number of parks has multiplied significantly and also by acreage since I was a young person growing up in Johnson City and utilizing the facilities. The offering of programs and number of activities has increased 10 or 20 times over which we had in our youth. Our Parks and Recreation Department now has a multitude of programming for all ages, not just in recreation but in arts and so many other classes dealing with lifestyles and enjoyable traits. Of course everything that we do is sometimes duplicated within the private sector or other areas of society.”

“One of the largest trends that I have seen change since I was a young man is the fact that now so many people have swimming pools in their own backyard, and most subdivisions that are newer have club houses, swimming pools and small recreational areas. This was unheard of during the ’50s, ’60s and even the ’70s. However the advent of water parks and splash pads, along with the newer playgrounds of which we are seeing come up around all of our communities are the obvious result of people not needing large swimming pools like you would find in the old days. I also see one of the really big trends coming to many cities that are under parks and recreation departments are large events such as concerts, festivals and seasonal outings.”

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