Parks and recreation departments contribute to the overall quality of life in a city. Parkland, recreation centers and aquatics centers give people low-cost and no-cost ways to remain physically active and enjoy the outdoors. Working in parks and recreation can be a rewarding career choice. Those interested in playing while they work would enjoy a career in a parks and recreation department. A city’s parks and recreation director reports to the city manager or an assistant city manager and manages all activities of the parks and recreation department. All staff in the department report to the director. Parks and recreation directors routinely interact with other department heads. This parks and recreation director works with the finance department to determine the department’s annual budget, with the city attorney to ensure that legal liability is mitigated and with the public information officer to create marketing campaigns promoting department services, for example. Parks and recreation directors make frequent presentations to the city council and to an advisory board usually called the parks and recreation board or parks and recreation commission. The director forms strong personal relationships with parks and recreation board members and collegial relationships with city council members. 

Careers in a parks and recreation department

Parks managers are responsible for the maintenance and operations of city parks. They develop maintenance schedules and hold their staff accountable for carrying out the tasks necessary to keep parks clean and safe. Parks managers help the director create and update the city’s parks plan that projects when construction of new parks and major renovations to existing parks will take place. They sometimes pitch in to help with manual labor, but their primary role is to ensure the work is done safely and efficiently. New supervisors are often promoted from the crews they just worked on. Managing a group that used to be peers brings on its own unique challenges. Parks maintenance workers take care of the landscapes, hardscapes, structures and equipment within parks. Their mowing, edging, pruning, trimming and doing countless other tasks keeps parks pristine for citizens. They make sure they do their jobs safely to avoid injuring themselves and others Recreation managers oversee recreation activities the city administers for its citizens. Recreation coordinators report to the recreation manager. They help parks and recreation directors create recreation plans and budgets. Plans can cover one or multiple years.  Budgets are made with both long-range and short-range plans in mind but they typically cover one year. Recreation coordinators deliver recreation services directly to citizens. They report to recreation managers and may supervise part-time staff or volunteers. They most often work with youth and senior adults as these two groups tend to consume recreation services more than others.  Head lifeguards play a precarious role. They often do not have managerial authority over lifeguards, but they direct lifeguards’ work under broad guidance from the aquatics manager. Lifeguards protect swimmers by enforcing rules and attending to swimmers in distress.