Meredith Petit almost went to Oregon State University. During her tour there she learned that you can major in parks and recreation management in the College of Forestry.
She got her bachelor’s degree in the field at Northern Arizona University and went to work in the Southern California cities of El Segundo and Agoura Hills.
Now, though, she is back in Corvallis as the city’s new director of parks and recreation.
“I always look back on that decision,” she said in an interview Wednesday, her third day on the job. “It was one of those lucky moments for me to find (the field to pursue) early on. I’ve always been attracted to the area; I have a sister in Seattle and I lived there when I was in elementary school.
“I never really saw myself staying in L.A. as long as I did. I might have left sooner if not for the beach.”
Petit moved to Corvallis from Redondo Beach.
During visits to Corvallis in July and August she hiked at Bald Hill Natural Area, Chip Ross Park and the Peavy Arboretum in McDonald-Dunn Forest. Her “local” spot since she moved to town is Willamette Park.
The trail network in Corvallis is one of the major differences she noted between her new position and her previous ones in more urban environments. Other than that, the facilities and programs are fairly similar, with serving the community while battling COVID-19 a key priority.
Wednesday’s interview was conducted in a Parks and Recreation Department conference room which featured dozens of boxes of items that will go into activity bags for Saturday’s 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Boo Bash, a drive-through Halloween event.
“Helping keep the community safe while still offering programs is our highest priority,” she said. “I don’t know how this is going to go. You almost have to reimagine recreation.”
Petit noted that the department currently offers virtual programming, some in-person classes and some hybrid programs “while always trying to cater to people’s comfort level.”
“One of the things that we are missing,” she said, “is special events. Since the pandemic isn’t going to end anytime soon, we need to talk about how to put on events.”
Petit complimented retiring Director Karen Emery (who is leaving at the end of this week after 30 years with the department, the final 12 as director) for her work on master plans and strategic planning.
“I need to wrap my head around what already is in place,” she said, “and maybe add some fresh perspective, a new set of eyes and get creative.”
One overriding theme that Petit plans to carry over from the Emery era is an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. This includes playgrounds that have easier access, parks that are within walking distance for those without cars and prices that are within reach for as many community members as possible.
“We don’t want anyone to feel excluded,” she said.
Petit is the first of three new directors that City Manager Mark Shepard will be hiring in the coming months. Finance Director Nancy Brewer and Public Works Director Mary Steckel both left last month. Shepard already has brought in a finalists' pool for finance, with hopes of filling the position by the end of the year. Filling the public works position is at least six months out.
Petit will be introduced to the City Council at Monday’s 6 p.m. remote meeting.
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