Jason Shamblin takes over as county parks director

Alexander Sinn • Updated Jul 16, 2019 at 9:00 AM

WEST OLIVE — The Ottawa County Parks Commission meeting last week was the first for new director Jason Shamblin.

The Ohio native became the commission’s second director June 24. He previously served nearly seven years as assistant director of MetroParks in Butler County, Ohio.

West Michigan isn’t entirely uncharted for the Shamblin family, who have vacationed in the area for the past four years. Shamblin said he visited around 10 of the county’s parks during the interview process, before he was selected among 82 candidates for the position.

Shamblin takes over after the Ottawa County Parks founder John Scholtz retired last month.

Shamblin’s first task as director is listening, he said, and learning about the parks system. At the monthly commission meeting on July 10, he reviewed plans for numerous projects to restore shoreline amid historically high Great Lakes water levels.

In the fastest-growing county in the state, Shamblin said the parks are becoming more important as new development continues to expand.

“One of the volunteers here said it best,” he said. “‘The county parks are people's backyards.’ For the folks who are living in condos or in the tight subdivisions, the parks really are where they go to their backyard.”

Shamblin said he has hiked at Rosy Mound and visited the Eastmanville Farm, noting the drastic difference between the two landscapes.

Growing up in southern Ohio, Shamblin lived on a 150-acre farm, which he said formed his career path. He earned a bachelor's degree in recreation management from Ohio University. He also holds an Associate's in Applied Science degree in recreation and wildlife technology from Hocking College.

“When I went to college, I was astounded that I could essentially help be a part of education and conservation that I grew up with, just an integral part of my childhood,” he said.

In his first week as director, Shamblin attended the opening of Stearns Creek Park on Stearns Bayou in Robinson Township. The park, among the most biodiverse sites in the county parks system, is part of the Grand River Greenway project, which the new director said is a top priority for the department.

“It was hotter and steamier than it is outside today,” Shamblin said last Wednesday. “There were 120 people or more there, and they stayed and listened to all the presentations and stayed for the hike. It’s really exciting to see that passion in the community. That community support and passion makes driving those projects much easier.”

While Shamblin noted the challenge of invasive species, he said Ottawa County has been proactive on several fronts. He said innovative strategies, like the county’s prescribed browsing goat team, are welcome to that fight. In southern Ohio, he said, the situation was much worse.

“We on a regular basis were losing that battle,” he said.

Shamblin is a novice to some of the popular Michigan pastimes offered at its parks — such as ice fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. He intends to try them all.

The hardest part of the transition has been a gradual move with his family — his wife, Allison; and their three children: Grayson (11), Griffin (9) and Madelyn (8). It won’t be hard convincing the rest of his family from Ohio to come visit, he said.

“It’s sad to leave them all in Ohio, but it’s exciting to have a destination that they’ll want to come visit,” Shamblin said.

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