Dec 1, 2021 - News

Meet the new Columbus parks director

Headshot of the new Columbus parks director, Bernita Reese
Bernita Reese, the new director of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department. Photo courtesy of the city of Columbus

Columbus' new director of the Recreation and Parks Department knows the job involves more than managing local athletic fields and trails.

  • Bernita Reese believes it's about providing a comprehensive range of public services, from leisurely activities to food distribution programs.

Why it matters: Reese, the first woman in city history to serve as parks director, will oversee an extensive department with more than 1,700 employees and an annual budget of more than $50 million.

Flashback: Reese previously spent three years as assistant parks director in Columbus.

  • Since March, the Atlanta native has led the parks department in Huntsville, Alabama.

What they're saying: In a press conference, Mayor Andrew Ginther called Reese "a dynamic leader" who is a "consummate public servant."

  • Reese says she is excited to return to Ohio.
  • "Under my leadership it is vital that we concentrate on the mission and vision to serve all residents … and create an inclusive culture."

The big picture: The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department features more than 400 parks and 230 miles of regional trails, all of which were valuable resources to residents during the height of last year's pandemic shutdowns.

  • The department also includes 28 community centers, a half-dozen municipal golf courses, nearly a dozen pools, and a handful of dog and skate parks.
  • Much of its attention is geared toward athletic leagues and community programs — in 2020, the department served close to 500,000 free meals through its summer and after-school food programs.

What's next: Reese wants to see a big focus on teen programming in 2022 and better marketing of the department's offerings to the community.

  • The new director also has a goal of making local parks more accessible to every single resident.
  • "It is imperative that we connect more neighborhoods to our trail systems, creating a 10-minute walk from a neighborhood to a park."
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