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Taavola takes helm of rec department in Gladstone

Wendy Taavola is the new parks and recreation director for the city of Gladstone. (Escanaba Daily Press photo)

GLADSTONE — The City of Gladstone has a new parks and recreation director.

Wendy Taavola, who stepped into her first day on the job May 20, says she aims to maintain and improve the city’s existing assets and anticipates that the first year will be spent gaining insight on how things are run season by season.

As the “year-round playground” — a nickname bestowed upon the town years ago — Gladstone is home to many well-loved parks, including a beach with swimming and fishing opportunities and a sports complex with a ski hill and disc golf course.

The role of parks and recreation director has been officially vacant for a little shy of a year, but duties continued to be carried out by Robert Brown — still a full-time department employee responsible for park maintenance and the like — from that point until now.

Taavola, originally from the Houghton-Hancock area, is a civil engineer by education and has lived in Gladstone with her family since 2003. She previously worked for the city of Escanaba and for the Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Regional Commission on recreation plans and is looking forward to taking an active role in the city that’s been her home for the last 20 years.

“My goal is to work toward improvements (and) maintain what we have… I’m still learning all the assets,” said Taavola, speaking to the Press during what was only her second week, acknowledging that the parks had already been thrown into chaos after the recent storm:

“We had the tree upheavals — that was a big day three incident,” she said.

This Tuesday, June 2, Taavola will meet the Recreation Advisory Board, a committee of what should be seven citizens — though one seat is currently vacant — who help guide the city commission and administration in the operation of the parks, harbor, Gladstone Bay Campground, beautification projects and recreational programs. They meet the first Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m.

“I love to work for the community, and I want to do good and make everything better moving forward. That’s my number one thought coming into this. It’s going to be fun, of course, because recreation is fun. So I’m really looking forward to it — I’m getting a huge education already,” Taavola laughed.

Rather than trying to shake anything up immediately, she said that the first year will include coordinating with Brown, city hall and the board, “getting used to the calendar, getting everything down, getting through things that have already been scheduled… just to get me up to speed with what plans have been made, what plans are in the works, or what ideas have come up.”

New this year is a bass tournament, organized by a group out of Wisconsin, that will be coming to Gladstone June 13 through 15. Taavola said they already have about 60 or 70 entrants signed up.

The series of Native American statues in Van Cleve Park are in the process of being repainted, and Taavola cited the road around the pavilion in that area as the subject of another plan in the works.

“So far, the crew that works for the recreation department has been great,” Taavola said. “Really hard workers — several kids that are return workers for the season.” She added that it is a small crew at the moment, though, and that the city is seeking more seasonal workers.

Teens and others looking for summer employment and adults interested in serving on the Recreation Advisory Board may find applications on the city website (gladstonemi.gov) or at city hall.

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