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County parks put in hands of native daughter

A love of plants and a love of Whidbey Island combined to make the perfect job opportunity for Terri Arnold, who recently became the new Island County Parks superintendent.

Arnold was born and raised on South Whidbey, graduating from Langley High School in 1975, the third generation to call the island home.

But, like so many must do, she left the island to attend college.

After a 27-year detour that included a degree in Environmental Community Leadership from Antioch University, ownership of a retail and wholesale nursery, and extensive experience working for the City of Seattle in Parks and Recreation, Arnold’s career path led her back to Whidbey.

The pull of home was strong, and two years ago she bought a house and 10 acres near her family, on Lone Lake. She commuted to her job in Seattle using public transit.

“I read a lot of novels,” she said.

In November 2003 she saw an ad in the paper for the county parks superintendent position, vacated when Lee McFarland retired.

“I thought, ‘wouldn’t that be great if it worked out,’” she said.

Arnold said she felt one quality that made her a strong candidate for the job was her work as the supervisor at Camp Long Environmental Center, and her experience in the management of public lands.

“I can take off and put on many hats,” she said.

Having worked in Seattle for so long gives her a unique perspective on what’s ahead for Whidbey Island: population pressure and the need for growth management.

“Urban growth will affect every single thing in our lives,” she said.

Ironically, while Whidbey Island received the state’s “rural counties” designations fairly recently, many of the problems it faces are of an urban nature.

This hit home for Arnold during her first week at work, when the county held two community meetings on the clash of hunters and homeowners. She can see both sides, having hunted on the island with her grandfather, and walked the crowded sands of Alki Beach in Seattle.

“The hunting issue is a poignant example of urban sprawl,” she said.

One challenge that Arnold is looking forward to is the management and coordination of the many stewardship groups that take care of the bigger county parks on the island. The term “parks” is used for any county property, Arnold explained.

Stewardships are vital to the operation of the county parks, doing work that the county budget can’t stretch to cover. Volunteers build trails, pick up trash and monitor activities, providing the “eyes and ears” of the property, Arnold said.

She would like to form a park stewardship council, to bring everyone together to discuss common problems and goals. She would also like to increase stewardships to cover every parcel of county land.

Arnold has a staff of just three full-time park technicians, one part-time seasonal worker and one half-time administrator to oversee more than 50 pieces of property county-wide. Those parcels range from road ends to the 600-acre Goss Lake Woods.

With the steady stream of people flocking to Whidbey Island for the pastoral peace and quiet, “parks will become more and more important to Island County,” she said.

If the parks management didn’t keep her busy enough, Arnold is also assistant director of general services, which oversees the parks department and many other county duties.

Betty Kemp, the county’s General Services director, said Arnold won the spot in part because of her facilities management background, personality and her enthusiasm for the job.

‘It’s what made her come out on top,” Kemp said.

Assistant Director Arnold will be Kemp’s right-hand person, acting as director when Kemp is out of the office.

The department covers a wide variety of services, from parks and safety to the motor pool and public defense.

Arnold’s first big challenge is to manage the county’s 4 Springs Lake Reserve on Camano Island. The county purchased it in 1998 with the plan of turning the house and 50 acres of grounds into a special events facility. Progress has stalled, and it’s up to Arnold to jump start it. They are aiming for a grand opening of the revenue-producing facility in October.

Arnold has experience in that area too, having worked in special events and tenant development at Seattle’s Sand Point Magnuson Park.

She would also like to develop more recreational opportunities on county land, making it more of a “parks and recreation” type department. She envisions community centers for all to use, skateboard parks and other youth-oriented facilities, and a recreation program with something for seniors and at-risk youth.

Arnold’s love of Whidbey Island and her enthusiasm for her new job could translate into energetic growth for the county parks.

“I think I can help grow a viable and vital Parks Department,” Arnold said.

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