By Conrad Dudderar
“Being a parks and recreation director is a ‘dream come true’ for me professionally,” Chris Lucas said this week.
That dream became a reality on Dec. 13, Lucas’ first day leading the City of Yukon’s Parks and Recreation Department and its 64 full- and part-time employees.
Yukon City Manager Tammy Kretchmar recently selected Lucas to succeed Jan Scott, who served nearly 22-1/2 years as Yukon Parks & Recreation director.
Having worked since age 14, Lucas brings 25 years of professional parks and recreation experience to his new position.
“My goal is to make the parks and recreation department here the ‘gold-medal standard’ – not just for the City of Yukon, but for the State of Oklahoma,” he said.
“My job is to work as hard as I possibly can – as many hours as I need to – to make that a reality. For me, it’s getting to know the community, getting to know the stakeholders and having an ‘open door’.”
The new YPR director comes to Yukon from the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department, where since July 2016 he had been unit operations supervisor for the recreation division.
Lucas began full-time in parks and recreation 15 years ago, and has held management and supervisory positions in Oklahoma City, Liberty, Mo., Highlands Ranch, Colo., and Lakewood, Colo.
“This is my fifth organization,” said Lucas, who has family in Canadian County. “Seeing how four different organizations worked from a parks and recreation standpoint allows me to really draw on my experience. I can almost ‘pick and choose’ what techniques may work great for the City of Yukon.”
Lucas believes he will especially benefit from his three years in Liberty, a Kansas City suburb similar in size to Yukon. He was a recreation supervisor and recreation manager there before coming to Oklahoma City.
“It is a smaller community next to a large metropolitan area, but it has its own essence, its own feeling and its own ‘heart’ – like Yukon,” Lucas noted. “So, I’m able to draw on that experience.
“We want to grow and be the main ‘player’ in parks and recreation within the state. But we also want to make sure it’s Yukon Parks and Recreation – maybe not a ‘small-town essence’, but ‘Yukon’s essence’ at the heart of everything.”
Lucas’ career path led him to the director position with Yukon’s large parks and rec department.
As an executive board member and 2019-20 president of the Oklahoma Recreation and Parks Society (ORPS), Lucas said he knew about the “building blocks” of Yukon Parks & Recreation.
“That excited me because Yukon had a foundation that was set by the previous administration,” he said. “I knew the right person would be able to take that foundation and build upon it.”
Much of Yukon’s Parks and Recreation Department is driven by special events – everything from the Taste of Yukon and Spooksville to Freedom Fest and Christmas in the Park.
These and other activities allow YPR personnel to “really connect with this community,” according to Lucas.
One of Lucas’ primary goals is “alignment” as the new director and YPR staff build what he calls “something special” for Yukon.
“I want to align what the community wants and needs to what community stakeholders, elected officials and management want from a parks and recreation department,” he said. “Then bringing along parks and recreation best practices and industry standards to meet that need.”
WITH A PASSION
The outgoing, high-energy Lucas has a relationship-based leadership style. And, he is quite passionate about his profession.
“I really want to let people understand what parks and recreation is,” Lucas said. “It’s not just about youth sports, or a gym, or special events. It’s so much more than that.
“We have the opportunity, through park land, to increase property value. We have the opportunity, through our programs, to reduce crime rates.”
As a parks and rec advocate, Lucas naturally supports further development of park property.
A multi-use, multi-generational sports park is among possible projects for a City of Yukon bond issue or sales tax election proposed in June 2022.
“A community should be able to rally around anything that can enhance youth and adult athletics in our system,” Lucas said. “It’s my job to advocate for it and educate individuals about what that can bring to the city.”
The new YPR director thinks such a facility would help the City of Yukon’s sales tax base by drawing visitors – and that would be “fantastic” for the community.
“Having a sports complex not only would positively impact what we have here in our own programs,” he said, “it also would allow people from across western Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City metro to come to Yukon, spend time here and see what we have to offer – shop in our stores and visit our restaurants. All of that benefits the city is some way.”
During his first week on the job, the new director embraced being part of the YPR “family” as personnel prepared for Thursday night’s annual “Sounds of the Season” Christmas concert.
Lucas is further excited the department has many newer staff members, who he looks forward to coaching and mentoring in what he calls the “power of parks and recreation.”
Among those welcoming him to Yukon was Andrea Griffin, who is thrilled to be Lucas’ administrative coordinator as she helps him build, educate and grow “our team.”
Encouraging residents to invest in Yukon, Griffin anticipates the new YPR director bringing “fresh” new ideas, including new events while improving on existing ones.
“I want to make Yukon a destination,” said Griffin, who volunteered 17 years at YPR programs and special events before coming to work for the City of Yukon almost four years ago.
Her daughter Amber grew up in the parks and rec system, participating in programs like the swim team and serving as a camp counselor for years.
In Lucas’ immediate past position at Oklahoma City’s Parks and Recreation Department, he provided leadership and direction to a staff of 14 permanent employees, 175 part-time employees, 30 contractual entities, and 100 volunteers.
Lucas was responsible for the vision, development, planning, and administrative of a comprehensive citywide recreation program directly overseeing athletics, aquatics, health/wellness, performing arts, camps, concession operations, and citywide recreational special event service areas.
He helped plan, implement and assess the department’s $1.5 million annual operating budget.
As he begins his new YPR director role, Lucas is finishing a four-year term on the ORPS executive board. As a board member, he has worked closely with parks and recreation officials from municipalities across Oklahoma.
“It’s good timing because I really want to focus on what we’re doing here in Yukon and put all my effort into this,” he said. “Being an ORPS board member has really allowed me to learn about the State of Oklahoma and where we are from a parks and recreation industry standard.”
Lucas earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and a Master of Science in Kinesiology (emphasis in coaching and recreation management) from Michigan State University.
The new YPR chief realizes how much Yukon loves its 12 city parks, three recreation facilities, two pools and splashpad.
“They are used,” Lucas said. “Some may be on the ‘tired’ side, but that’s because of years and years of activity.”
The City of Yukon has been awarded a federal grant to install a new playground and splash pad at Freedom Trail Park.
Regardless of whether any other new facilities are built, Lucas believes his department will be able maximize the capacity of existing YPR facilities through programs, services and staff investment.
“My goal – and my staff’s goal – is to be able to do what we can to rejuvenate the ones that are more ‘tired’ than others,” he said. “And to make sure we have a set standard of what our parks and facilities look like.”