The new ‘Rec’king crew: Three new hires come together for the busy summer of the Craig Parks and Recreation department
Six months ago Ryan Dennison, Travis Sanford and Caroline Riley were on different paths. Ryan was going through the interview process for his dream job. Sanford was living a self-proclaimed “gypsy” life, working at his latest stop, a residential youth facility in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Riley was trying to decide whether or not she wanted to return to the University of Wyoming in Laramie for her second semester.
Today, their paths have converged as they settle into their new positions at the City of Craig Parks and Recreation Department.
“I’m grateful how it all came in place,” Dennison said. “I think the community is going to benefit from the hard work of our team.”
The dream job
Dennison moved to Craig six years ago to take the position of parks and recreation manager. His wife, Jessica, is a Craig native and they hoped to raise their family with other relatives near. Last year when Dave Pike announced his retirement from the director position, Dennison applied to take the next step up.
“Dave was a great mentor to me and I learned a lot from him,” he said. “It was my dream since my sophomore year in college to be a parks and rec. director.”
The job was not just handed down to Dennison. He said there were more than 90 applicants he was up against for the job. What he brought to the table, in addition to familiarity, was a broad list of public recreation experiences prior to being hired as the manager in Craig.
“Before we moved to Craig we lived in Grand Junction and after earning my degree in recreation management I tried to get as broad of experiences as I could,” he said.
Dennison trained in forestry and horticulture as well as worked at the Stocker Stadium facilities in Grand Junction. His transition from manager to director moves him from being out on the fields and in the parks, to organizing those going out.
“It’s a bit of a transition,” he said. “But I’m hoping that with my experience on the maintenance side of things I can help look at how we are doing things and give my teams the tools they need to get their jobs done.”
Dennison was hired in January and one of his first tasks was to fill two other important positions in his department. He had to hire for his previous manager position — “I was happy to pass the torch from my previous position onto Travis,” he said. “He’s bringing some outdoor rec. experience that would be a fun addition to Craig and also has experience working for us” — and the aquatic manager position, “Caroline has jumped right in with great enthusiasm and attitude,” he said.
Sanford did not grow up in Craig, but he would consider it his second home. For vacations he would come from Arvada and visit his family, Dave and Cindy Morris, and their children, and it was then that Craig made a lasting impression.
“I grew up with my uncle taking me out on hikes in the desert until I couldn’t walk any farther,” he said. “It made a positive impression because I always said if I were to settle down somewhere, Craig would be a good place.” After earning a degree in outdoor recreation from Western Colorado University in Gunnison, Sanford traveled around picking up jobs as a river guide and taking chances to explore the country. He also worked alongside Dennison in Craig for the Parks and Rec. department in 2017.
When Sanford was hired in March he dove into making a plan for summer recreation. It was not too long though that he had to start to make adjustments.
“My vision for the summer was to get youth sports full-on rolling,” he said. “Then about a month before the bat sports were supposed to start, it all stopped.”
Conditions were too shut down to put in much consideration to save the baseball and softball seasons, but Sanford and Dennison held out to try to make soccer a reality.
“I was on a lot of Zoom calls that included youth sports directors from around the state,” Sanford said. “We all talked about how we needed to wait and see how things progressed.”
The “wait and see” approach allowed for Sanford to not jump on the summer-cancelling bandwagon that some community rec departments were going through in May. Instead he announced to the community that some version of youth soccer would happen.
“We really wanted to make something happen,” he said. “So we put together a couple of safety plans for the commissioners and waited to see if the state would open up.”
The goal of allowing a youth soccer season was realized when Governor Jared Polis announced that youth sports would be allowed. On Monday Sanford held a coaches meeting and set up how soccer games will start the first week of July.
“I’m looking forward to learning and getting into the municipal side of recreation,” he said. “And hopefully we can find some ways to incorporate some outdoor recreation as well.”
Riley will be the first one to tell you she did not love her first semester of college at the University of Wyoming.
“I was miserable,” she said.
When the aquatic manager position came open, she thought that she could take the chance in case it was a sign that she should not go back to school.
“I knew I was taking a chance because I’m pretty young,” said the 2019 Moffat County High School graduate. “But I had spent the last six summers working at the pool and thought I could step up into the position.”
Riley’s chance paid off when she was hired in February. She went right to work to prepare for the summer. Everybody knows what happened next.
“I went from thinking ‘why are people panicking’ to ‘this is going to get bad.’” she said. “We went from Plan A to B to C to D to E.”
If there is a silver lining to the adaptations and challenges of COVID-19 for the pool complex, it is that the wave pool is getting a facelift. It was not going to be open for a portion of the summer anyway.
“Everybody knows the wave pool is the main attraction for us,” Riley said. “So it is actually convenient in the timing because we were going to be without the wave pool for a while.”
Similar to Sanford’s approach for youth soccer, Riley and Dennison had a hurry-up-and-wait approach for getting the pool open.
“There are a lot of pools across the country that chose to not open up this summer,” she said. “We made safety plans and waited with the hope that Polis would make some allowances.”
The pool was able to open up for 38 swimmers at a time and with the newest variance for Moffat County, it may allow for more soon.
Throughout the process, Riley said she has a lot of appreciation for how everything has fallen into place.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of lifeguards and I really hope we can build a team here,” she said. “I’m grateful that Ryan took a bit of a leap of faith on me because I am pretty young. I think it has all worked out well.”
When the pool was able to open Riley said it was worth all of the extra work.
“I almost teared up to see how excited the kids were to get to do something,” she said. “We have had to turn a handful of people away, but for the most part they’ve been understanding.”
Now that the summer is returning closer to what they all imagined when they were hired, the trio is grateful for the work they’ve put in together and look forward to serving the community.
“This group, and our entire department, has entered into this summer with flexibility but also with enthusiasm and great energy,” Dennison said. “We are excited to get back to some degree of normalcy and serve the community the best we can.”
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Moffat County continues to see a downward trend in COVID-19 cases as the community has seen 31 new cases dating back to Friday, Jan. 8, according to Public Health.