Parks director brings decades of experience

The Vindicator (Youngstown)


Mill Creek MetroParks new Executive Director Clarke Johnson

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Mill Creek Metroparks Director

By Elise Franco


Clarke Johnson spent his first day as Mill Creek MetroParks executive director getting to know the lay of the land.

After more than a year of searching, Johnson, 59, of Franklin, Wis., was chosen as the park district’s next director. The board of park commissioners officially will appoint him to the position at its meeting at 4 p.m. Monday at the MetroParks Farm on state Route 46 in Canfield.

Johnson has more than 30 years of experience in parks and recreation in California, Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana. The Columbus native said he’s been involved in park systems since he was in high school.

“My whole life has basically prepared me for this job,” he said. “I started in parks and recreation when I was 16, mowing grass and working as a lifeguard.”

From there Johnson attended The Ohio State University, where he received his Bachelor of Science in parks and recreation/natural resources in 1974. He finished his master’s degree in parks and recreation administration at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan.

Most recently, from July 2008 to February 2010, Johnson worked as the superintendent at the City of Portage Parks and Recreation Department in Portage, Ind., where he helped develop a regional environmental education center — Lakefront Park and Riverwalk.

Mill Creek MetroParks had been without a permanent director since David Imbrogno resigned in mid-2009. Tom Bresko, recreation and programs director, filled in as interim director throughout the vacancy.

Bresko said Johnson’s contract and salary haven’t been finalized by the board and will be released to the public after Monday’s meeting.

Speaking on behalf of the board members Tuesday, Bresko said, “I know and the board knows it was a long, slow, sometimes torturous process, but they made sure to investigate a lot of candidates. I think they decided on a very good one.”

In total, about 140 applications were reviewed by the board.

Johnson said he looks forward to carrying on the traditions that MetroParks founder Volney Rogers started nearly 120 years ago.

“Being from here and knowing this system has a great deal of value, I’m very interested in getting closer to its roots,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he plans to take time to get to know the MetroParks staff and the district’s surrounding communities.

“I really want to work with the team here and find out the direction we should be going,” he said. “I hope to lead the charge in that.”

Bresko said though he plans to retire sometime in 2011, he plans to help Johnson transition into the executive director spot and said he has some work to do on several major recreation projects.

Johnson said he looks forward to learning from Bresko, who has been a part of the park system for several decades.

“Tom is full of institutional history, and I want to keep him as close to me as possible,” he said. “Right now I want to meet as many people in the community as I can so I can get to know where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

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