Public Service: “My Field of Dreams”

Public Service: “My Field of Dreams”
Posted on 04/03/2018

By Mayor Mike Peterson

I was blessed at a relatively young age to be able to choose my career in public service as a parks and recreation practitioner and to continue to work in that field for well over 40 years. Every day presented new challenges and opportunities to make positive change in my community or even in the life of an individual.

I reflect fondly on those early days as a student at the University of Utah while working full-time as a recreation leader at the newly opened Northwest Multi-Purpose Center in the 1970s. For many youth, the recreation center became a home away from home, a sanctuary for those in need of a listening ear and a sense of acceptance. While many had personal challenges, most were just excited to have a place to come, feel safe, and participate in a wide range of activities.

In those days, the programs were varied and diverse, and included arts and crafts, wood shop, sports, game-room activities, camping, hiking, special events, and much more. We created personal bonds with the youth and found ourselves serving as friends and counselors as much as recreation leaders. These experiences revealed a new perspective and a comprehensive appreciation for the real value of public parks and recreation. Its impact reaches far beyond simply providing parks and facilities. These early experiences in my career shaped the principles and philosophies that would guide me in my professional and personal life for decades to come.

I periodically run into some of those youth, 40 years later, and we reflect on the fond memories and lessons learned so long ago. With hindsight on my side and a perspective that can only be gained with age, I have witnessed firsthand the life-changing impact parks and recreation practitioners, and many others who give to the community, have on those we serve. 

As public parks and recreation careers expanded and the need for parks, trails, open space and recreation services evolved, the effort to create and maintain these amenities and services has become one of the highest priorities in most every community. Nowadays, we no longer provide equal services to all residents, but rather services based on socioeconomic need. We no longer provide programs consisting of a series of activities selected from a restricted list of recreation pursuits but provide programs of human service that may go far beyond traditional park and recreation activities. Today we’re building or improving facilities that will stand the test of time or fighting to protect that last piece of grass or open space that could easily be overrun with high density housing or office buildings. For public servants, knowing that we can have a positive and lasting impact in our communities is all part of the dream.

As I approached retirement a couple years ago, I stepped back and realized how many of my dreams had become a reality. I wanted to work with young people from all walks of life and facilitate meaningful moments that would have a lasting and positive influence on their personal development. Over time, I sought to create the same enthusiasm and opportunities for adults and seniors as well. I wanted to participate in the development of new and unique facilities that would meet the ever-changing demands and interests of the public. I desired to coach and mentor young professionals as they discovered their talents and refined their skills. I wanted them to know they could make a difference wherever they chose to hone their profession. I was able to glean knowledge from my association with university educators who helped me reach my potential. I valued the opportunity to network and learn from other practitioners who had a similar passion for creativity and the same dedication to the communities in which they served. 

As a new mayor, I am anxious to take this same dream and apply it to our wonderful city. I envision the development of more parks and trails and protecting our limited amount of open space. It will require strategic planning in every area, and collaborations with many and varied stakeholders. It will include the development of creative approaches to maintaining our city’s infrastructure, in providing essential services, and in the ability to customize our public safety departments to meet the unique needs of Cottonwood Heights. Our young city has stayed true to its vision, and I am proud of how far we’ve come in just a few years. Our city has a bright future full of potential. Just like my early days as a young public servant, I’m excited for the challenges ahead and for the opportunity to bring additional positive results.