2007-09-12 / Sports

Parks and recreation director is "Golden"

By Lynn Warren

Mike Golden, director of the Chesterfield Department of Parks and Recreation, would like to see more green space in the county like what's available at the Harry G. Daniel Park at Iron Bridge. Mike Golden, director of the Chesterfield Department of Parks and Recreation, would like to see more green space in the county like what's available at the Harry G. Daniel Park at Iron Bridge. The recreational needs of Chesterfield County fall under the mandate of the Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation, and the administration of that mandate falls to Mike Golden, the 57-year-old director of parks and recreation.

Golden joined the department in 1979 and has been its director for the past decade. A graduate of Lehigh University, he is a great believer in education and has backed that belief up with a master's degree from Virginia Tech and is working on his doctorate at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The nuts and bolts of his job involve overseeing 115 full-time employees, a $10 million operating budget, and a $30-$40 million, five-year Capital Improvement Plan. Golden embraces his assignment with both vision and commitment.

"As the county's population grows, I'd like to see greater green space with walking and bike trails and fitness programs for all age groups," he said.

But that goal doesn't come without facing many other challenges. Golden constantly wrestles with the expanding needs of the youth in the Route 360 corridor, the availability of facilities, budget constraints and the implementation of additional programs for the expanding senior population.

"There are always more wants than needs," admitted Golden.

A large part of his work is facilitating the organization of around 2,000 youth baseball, basketball, softball, soccer, football and cheerleading teams, providing both practice and game facilities for them and maintaining those facilities. Background checks for more than 6,000 coaches have become an important additional responsibility.

Over 30,000 youth and 10,000 seniors take part in organized parks and recreation programs each year. A staggering overall headcount of four million people either participate in parks or recreation activities or visit the county's facilities annually.

The biggest challenge is "the maintenance of the facilities - some were built in the '30s - and establishing and maintaining a relationship and partnership with the community," said Golden.

The department partners with the Chesterfield Historical Society and Henricus Historical Park, to name just a couple. Churches and community centers have also been instrumental in implementing both senior fitness and social programs.

"Churches, schools and the community centers at Ettrick and Bensley have provided essential facilities," explained Golden.

The Route 360 corridor, starting at approximately Courthouse Road and now extending rapidly past Woodlake, is another big challenge for the department. The desire to participate in sports, particularly at the grade school level, is the most significant in this area.

"And that's a good thing," said Golden, "but it does point out the need for additional facilities. We have had to inconvenience some groups by moving them to facilities away from their neighborhoods."

But it is the 800-acre Dutch Gap Conservation Area that best fits Golden's vision for the future of "more greenways and conservation planning being incorporated into the county's planning," said Golden. "Dutch Gap is essentially an undeveloped wildlife preserve with some trails and observation areas. Walking and hiking is by far the No. 1 recreational choice for seniors."

The county owns the James River site and partners with the Henricus Historical Park, which has developed approximately 20 acres. Dutch Gap received significant exposure during the recent Jamestown 2007 celebration. Approximately 18,000 people visited during the Godspeed's four-day docking at Henricus.

When Golden is not juggling available facilities versus available funding, he tries to squeeze in time for his other passion: golf.

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