“Whether it’s kids learning to swim or the first time that they get up and get a base hit in baseball … it’s kind of rewarding to know that you were part of that process.”
— Dave Pike, on the rewards of working as Craig Parks and Recreation director
Dave Pike doesn’t fit the profile of a button-down public official.
His skin is tanned to dark bronze, and a baseball cap and sunglasses look as natural on him as a collared shirt and tie would on his colleagues in other Craig City Hall offices.
What Pike does for a living doesn’t jive with the popular notion of municipal government, either.
City council meetings and budget season factor into his work, but they aren’t what his department is all about.
“Everyone says we’re the Fun Department,” the Parks and Recreation director said Friday morning.
He’s coached every sports program the department offers — basketball, football, soccer and T-ball are just a sampling — and he’s not shy about officiating if he’s shorthanded, he said.
“Whether it’s kids learning to swim or the first time that they get up and get a base hit in baseball … it’s kind of rewarding to know that you were part of that process,” said Pike, 55.
He landed in the Parks and Recreation director’s chair after taking a detour that required a uniform and a firm hand.
As a newly minted Colorado State University graduate with a degree in outdoor recreation and park administration, he tried being a park ranger at Steamboat Lake State Park.
But, as Pike would realize, he wasn’t cut out to be an enforcer.
He wasn’t keen on the idea of “writing tickets when people were having fun,” he said.
He found his niche in municipal government, taking a job at the Fort Collins Parks and Recreation Department and later landing the director’s role in the Monte Vista Parks and Recreation Department.
His career in the field now 28 years and counting, he said,
Not long after his arrival in Craig in 1996, he stumbled upon what would likely be a crown jewel in his career.
It began with a problem.
Trees that had graced what was then known as Craig City Park were dying and posing a hazard to park-goers, he said.
The only obvious solution was to cut them down, but Pike remembered the fallout from a similar decision in Monte Vista.
“The screaming and uproar from the community was huge,” he said.
As Parks and Recreation staff mulled the next move, an idea emerged to start a woodcarving competition.
Pike had no idea that a solution born of pure necessity would evolve into one of the city’s biggest events of the year, the annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous.
“The staff always laughs about it, the monster we created,” he said, chuckling. “It is a lot of work, and everybody on staff puts in a ton of time and effort into making this thing successful."
Helping other people have a good time is sometimes downright stressful.
Just ask Pike at this time of year, when Whittle the Wood is only a week away.
Pike is “pretty easy going, except for Whittle the Wood,” said Pennie Bricker, Parks and Recreation administrative technician. “(Then) he gets a little stressed out,” she said.
The allure of the outdoors is what drew Pike to consider a career in parks and recreation, he said.
He’s been a camping aficionado since he was in elementary school.
Now, outdoor pursuits — particularly camping and fly-fishing —are how he escapes from the pressures of making fun for a living.
That looming deadline?
He doesn’t sweat it, he said, at least not when he has a fishing pole in hand.
Can’t find enough umpires for a game?
“It seems when I’m out camping or fishing or hiking, I don’t think about anything else,” he said. “Everything kind of leaves my mind."
The outdoors beckons to Pike, but so does the community of Craig.
It’s become home to he and his wife, Jeannine, also 55.
It rallied around them twice, first when their son Cory died in 2009 at age 20 after a battle with Burkitt’s lymphoma, and again this winter, when traumatic brain injuries interrupted their son Tyler’s college career.
Tyler, 25, was rushed to Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland on New Year’s Day for injuries he suffered after exiting a moving vehicle, the Loveland Reporter-Herald reported in January.
"This community’s unbelievable,” Pike said. “In both cases, they just really helped us out with tons and tons of stuff, anything from watching the house to taking care of the dogs."
“Craig’s really good that way. People have all sorts of troubles through their life, and this community really steps up anytime something like that happens.”
Tyler is living in Craig for the time being, undergoing therapy, volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig and “doing remarkably well,” Pike said.
As for the Parks and Recreation director? He doesn’t expect to leave Craig anytime soon.
This city is, after all, “what I call home now,” he said.
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