Pickens is new parks chief

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State parks regional director will take over on April 1

By Lisa King

A man deeply experienced in managing parks at the state level has been chosen by the Shelby County Parks Board to lead the county’s facilities.

After a 2-month search among 17 candidates, parks board chair Hubie Pollett on Tuesday night introduced Shawn Pickens, 33, a regional parks director for the Kentucky Department of Parks in Frankfort, as the county’s new parks chief, replacing Clay Cottongim, who retired in December after 38 years.

Pollett said Pickens’ experience in managing state parks during the past decade has given him a broader range of experience than the others.

"His enthusiasm and his expertise in dealing with all the parks systems in the state played a huge part in the decision," Pollett said. "He was in charge of forty-three aquatic centers throughout the state, and he was in charge of the recreational programs in all the state parks as well as personnel. So he is very well qualified."

Pickens said that living and working in Frankfort during the past 6 years has provided him with the opportunity to check out Shelby's parks, and he said he has liked what he saw.

"I have always been interested in Shelby County's parks and very impressed by what we have here and knew that if anything ever opened up here, I would be very interested," he said. "I'd stack Shelby County's parks right up there against any parks system in the state, even Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green."

"This parks system has great potential. It's already great; I think it can be even greater. It has a great foundation, there's master plans for all the major sites, so it can only go from great to great. We just have to get more community support, which we already have a ton of, to keep moving forward."

Pollett said the board considered five finalists, with two of them being from Kentucky. "We got down to five we were going to interview, but one dropped out,” he said. “One was from New Hampshire, one was from South Carolina and two, including Shawn, were from Kentucky."

Cottongim was part of the group who chose his successor, and he heartily endorsed Pickens for the position that has a salary of $40,000.

"I think he [Pickens] will be an excellent asset for our parks,” Cottongim said. "Not only does he come to us very experienced, but he is a good person, a people person, and I think he will fit in very well. I think he'll do his best to meet the needs of the community."

That's high praise coming from a man who took Shelby's parks system from three ball fields, when he started out in 1978, just 8 years after the establishment of the parks board, and expanded it into what it is today: 12 parks that encompass more than 812 acres. The latest most recent is the 70-plus-acre expansion to the nearly 400 acres of Shelby Trails Park, an equestrian and nature facility in Todds Point, which opened in 2001.


Moving up

But Pickens has an extensive resume.

After graduating from Marshall University with a degree in parks and rec management, Pickens, a native of Kenova, W.Va., where his parents, John and Prudy Pickens still live, began his career in 2001 at Lake Cumberland State Park.

He moved in 2003 Rough River State Resort Park in Jefferson County, in Grayson County near Leitchfield, where he stayed for three years as aquatics and recreation director, also serving as media spokesperson.

"Then I was promoted to parks central office in Frankfort in 2006, which is where I still am," Pickens said. "I had several positions there, starting as special events and aquatics director for the entire state parks system, then I moved up to regional recreation coordinator for a section of the state. For the past year, I've been the assistant director of recreation and historic sites, so I've gotten further into management and evaluation issues and performance plans, as I have begun to deal with more aspects of parks."


New director’s goals

Cottongim had said when he retired that he would like to see the next director continue on with his vision for Shelby's parks, which includes even expansion, and Pickens said that is his main goal.

"One of the main goals, which is a consensus from the board and from Clay, is expansion," Pickens said.

"We just need some more land to expand some athletic fields, and also just to protect the natural environment, because Shelbyville is growing, and Louisville is expanding our way, too, so green space is very important, because that is very valuable as cities expand. So I think that's our number one goal, to keep expanding and keep the parks moving forward."

Pickens, who will take the helm April 1 from R.H. Bennett, who has been serving as interim parks director for more than a month, said he plans to move his family, wife, Pamela, and 16-month-old son, Zane, to Shelby County as soon as he can.

"I'm extremely excited and looking forward to it very much," he said. "Shelby County is a great place to call home, and I hope to retire here."