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A Place To Run and Play

New parks and recreation director has many plans for the future of city parks.

Michael McCarty grew up going to the YMCA in Quincy, Mass. He always enjoyed it, and even thought he could wind up working there in the long-term. He became a camp counselor when he was old enough, and went on to study recreation management in college. Now, he’s setting his sights on the future of parks and recreation in the City of Fairfax.

McCarty, the city’s new parks and recreation director, looks right at home in Fairfax. His staff smiles when he walks into the room, and they already speak highly of him. He seemed settled into his office at the Green Acres School, 4401 Sideburn Road, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, even though it was his first full day spent there.

“He’s wonderful; great to work with,” said Christina Hurdle, his administrative assistant.

McCarty, 37, had a job with the same title in Long Meadow, Mass., just outside of Springfield, Mass. When he heard his ex-wife might take a job in Northern Virginia and bring their 9-year-old son, Zachary, with her, he did what any good father would do: he moved here too.

“I saw it as a win-win for my family,” said McCarty.

McCarty has already become fond of the city, and sees a realm of possibilities for its parks. In Long Meadow, the size of the city and its park land was similar to that of Fairfax, but he said the recreation department there was a bit more self-sustaining.

“I think the big difference is there’s a much greater value that local government and residents place on recreation,” said McCarty. “Down here, they see it as such an integral part of the community. It’s really positive.”

IN LONG MEADOW, McCarty helped revamp the department there in two years. He refocused the vision of the department and ended up achieving the state’s Outstanding Agency Award. He said he’s very proud of the boundless playground — a playground that allows children with disabilities to access it — that was built there too, because it “put us on the map” and helped the parks become a destination for families.

When McCarty spoke with City Manager Bob Sisson recently and heard Sisson refer to a park as a sanctuary, McCarty “thought that was great.” To keep parks as sanctuaries, or to make sure they become sanctuaries, McCarty is focused on developing a new strategic plan.

“The parks department really needs an uplift and a change, and I think he’s really going to do it,” said Hurdle.

McCarty said the plan won’t be possible, however, without the community’s involvement.

“I want to listen to what the residents have to say,” he said. “I always want a dialogue.”

The new park director's first presentation to City Council was Sept. 12. He unveiled the three concepts of ball fields for the Stafford West property behind the Outback Steakhouse and KFC on the north side of Route 50. A follow-up to that work session is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 26, where he will bring back answers to council’s questions and concerns from the previous meeting.

The city needs more ball fields, McCarty said, because of the conditions of current fields and increasing participation. Sports like rugby and lacrosse are adding to field usage, and the growing senior population needs more fields too. The fields don’t have a chance to rest, thus they are unable to undergo repairs, because they are in constant use. This Stafford property concept recommended would build two fields on the property, a soccer field and a baseball diamond with a 375-foot outfield, with the outfield also doubling as another soccer field when necessary. The land was purchased as undesignated open space, and McCarty said it is the best way to meet the demand.

He realizes that there might be some community opposition, which is why he said he wants to hear what residents have to say. The goal is to build in a play area for children and more trails throughout the space.

“We’re trying to continue to preserve that land, but provide opportunities for recreation as well,” said McCarty. “The large buffer space there would still be kept green.”

Jo Ormesher, the city’s marketing manager, said McCarty has a great vision for the city, and she’s confident he will follow through with his plans. She’s thrilled that he’s encouraging community feedback, and said he’s the perfect person to fill the shoes of the previous parks director, Michael Cadwallader.

“The city is lucky to have both of the guys who are community-minded,” said Ormesher. “I’ve always thought of the City of Fairfax as a family. He’s going to be a great addition to that family.”