From scenic hiking trails and swimming spots to one of the largest city parks in Texas—the 525-acre Garey Park—Georgetown’s outdoor amenities are one of the top reasons why more and more newcomers choose to call Georgetown home. Behind its many nature gems is a team that not only helps bring these to fruition, but one that has made Georgetown’s Parks and Recreation Department a model for other cities.
For the last 16 years, Kimberly Garrett (pictured) has been at the helm overseeing more than 1,500 acres of parkland and facilities while meeting growth challenges like funding, land acquisition, and evolving community needs—all of which she calls a rewarding journey. “We have seen tremendous growth in our community, and I have been able to have my fingerprints on some of the most amazing park projects in our city.”
The leader of an award-winning Parks and Recreation Department, Kimberly says its success has been driven by the Parks, Recreation, and Trails Master Plan adopted in 2009—with an update in February this year—that has guided staff and elected officials in their project planning. Some of these projects included purchasing land on the west side of Georgetown for a community park, completing the first two phases of the San Gabriel Park Renovation Project, extending the trail from Blue Hole Park to Chautauqua Park along Scenic Drive, and connecting San Gabriel Park to the Katy Crossing subdivision. “One of the proudest moments for our team was the opening of Garey Park in 2018,” Kimberly says. “This park project took all hands on deck to meet our deadline and open to the public.”
THE GOLD STANDARD
The department has thrived largely thanks to Kimberly’s leadership and the impact she has had since 1995 when she began her career with the city. “Kimberly is forward-thinking and has built great relationships in the community to further opportunities for recreation in Georgetown,” says Melissa Pecorino, Parks and Recreation marketing and community engagement program manager. “She passionately supports a positive and active quality of life for Georgetown’s community. Her leadership serves as an example for both new and tenured staff to follow, and her impact can be seen through the many accomplishments the department has made under her guidance over the last 27 years.”
The Texas Recreation and Parks Society has recognized those accomplishments multiple times by awarding its Distinguished Gold Medal to the department in 2007, 2011, and 2017. A major part of that ongoing success, Kimberly says, is having a parks master plan that meets the priorities of residents as well as strong support and funding from elected officials for community projects. “Over the years, we have seen tremendous growth and our staff has been able to respond by providing quality programming and events to our community. Being recognized at the state level brings attention to your program and we have gained a reputation of being one of the best departments in the state. We are often looked at as a model for other parks and recreation departments.”
NEW PARK DESTINATIONS
Several park projects are in the works for Georgetown, including a regional trail connection on the South San Gabriel River below Wolf Crossing Shopping Center, and the third phase of the San Gabriel Park. This final phase will add a splash pad plaza and skate park and transform the park area behind the Recreation Center into a festival and event area.
Following the parks master plan update in February, Kimberly also plans to continue implementing the priorities of residents outlined in the plan. “Responding to growth by investing in our parks and facilities is very important,” she says. “I believe our high-quality parks and recreation system is one of the big reasons people move to Georgetown and my goal is to maintain the high quality of life people have come to expect in our community.”
In September, Kimberly was inducted into the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration, a group of parks and recreation leaders formed to promote the importance of parks and recreation and advance knowledge related to its administration. Having begun her career with the city in 1995, she served in various roles before becoming Parks and Recreation director in 2006.
Not content to serve only at the local level, she is also a member and past president of the Texas Recreation and Parks Society, National Recreation and Park Association, International City/County Management Association, and the Texas Municipal League. Believing in the importance of investing in the next generation, she also mentors for the Texas Recreation and Parks Society and the American Association of Park and Recreation Administration.
Kade’s Legacy: Building a Playful Future
When Julie Damian decided to bring a park and playground to her neighborhood, her mission was twofold—to honor the memory of her son Kade and give children the freedom to imagine their own play experience.
Kade passed away one month before his third birthday in 2018, and during the process, Julie saw how play helped her other two boys heal. “Play heals hearts. It brings people together and creates a community,” she says. “People might not be able to say what they want to say; through play, you don’t have to know what to say.”
It inspired her to start The Playful Child, a nonprofit organization that promotes free, unstructured play and the belief that it is essential to healthy development in children. “Free play is, essentially, child directed and led,” Julie says. “They decide how to use the space, create, imagine, without the toy, adult, or play structure prescribing or telling them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.”
The Playful Child is partnering with the City of Georgetown and the Parks and Recreation Department to create the Kade Damian Healing Hearts Park to honor Kade and all the children who live on in our hearts and memories. Located on 6 acres at 1306 Country Club Drive, the project will feature a wheelchair-accessible park and playground that allows kids to create their own play experience.
The Playful Child completed funding for phase 1 planning and construction documents and is planning a capital campaign to fund construction costs. On November 6, The Playful Child will host its fifth annual fundraiser, Pictures with Santa, at 9am at Anchored Wellness, 402 W. University Ave.