After a career of overseeing the development of award-winning parks for Hamilton County, Al Patterson is saying farewell. His retirement announcement was made to a gathering of park employees last Thursday in Cool Creek Nature Center, a facility that was built five years into his nearly 28-year run as the park department’s director. The nature center, which now attracts 50,000 visitors annually, is an example of the approach Patterson took when envisioning the future of parks and recreation in Hamilton County when he was named Superintendent of Parks for Hamilton County in 1992. “At that time, I was responsible for park property that totaled just 191 acres,” Patterson states. Today, the department oversees operations of thirteen parks covering 1,600 acres throughout the county, including its largest – Strawtown Koteewi Park. Because of the director’s firm commitment to keeping the parks relevant, guests to a county park may enjoy experiences ranging from relaxed bird watching to heart-pounding ziplining.
Under his directorship, the park department acquired and then developed well-known parks such as Cool Creek Park, Coxhall Gardens, Potter’s Bridge Park and Strawtown Koteewi Park. Each of these parks, like the balance of the park properties in the park system, was uniquely developed, with the agency’s mission and the future recreational needs of the community in mind.
Hamilton County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt, having worked with Patterson for eight years, observed “When I think of Hamilton County Parks, I think of Al Patterson and his forward thinking vision to bring transformational concepts that make our parks a destination not only in Indiana, but throughout the Midwest.”
Patterson is quick to point out that the success he has achieved has required the help of not only a team of dedicated and talented staff and a supportive park board and elected officials, but also the love and support of his wife Laura and their children Aaron and Kate. “My family has become as much a part of this park department as I have, and I will be forever indebted to them for the roles they’ve played in helping me build this department throughout my career,” Patterson added.
Professionals in the parks and recreation field that know Patterson acknowledge that he will be sorely missed as a staunch advocate for parks. “When speaking about parks with governors, congressional members, state representatives or just a single park visitor, there is no better messenger,” stated Chris McConnell, Parks and Recreation Superintendent for the city of Westfield, Indiana, and former county park staff member. Park staff will tell you that Al not only knows how to manage a park, he knows how to ENJOY a park! Whether catching the unusual mating rituals of Woodcocks played out at Strawtown Koteewi Park or casting a fishing line in the calm waters of Coxhall Gardens, Al has truly earned his moniker as “The Park Guy.”
What’s next for Patterson? “Laura and I are proud grandparents of a beautiful baby boy and we plan on spending more time with him and family in Wisconsin,” Patterson says with his trademarked smile that many have come to recognize, and one that will also be greatly missed.