The sounds of children laughing and playing at the Nikiski Community Playground are music to Rachel Parra’s ears.
In recognition for her leadership as director of the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area (NPRSA), the Kenai Peninsula Borough presented Parra with a commending resolution Tuesday at the borough assembly meeting.
The NPRSA received two awards at the Alaska Recreation and Parks Association Annual Conference in September in Fairbanks. Parra received the “Professional Award,” the highest recognition the state association can bestow.
The Nikiski Community Playground project received the other award for “Facility Excellence.” The Facility Excellence award recognizes significant new projects that have reflected the most positive changes in the community, according to the Alaska Recreation and Park Association website.
Parra, who has worked for the NPRSA since 1998 and has been director since 2005, said she was surprised to win the award.
“I was humbled and honored to be recognized,” she said. “I’m not one to toot my own horn but it shows the hard work and effort this department has put into projects.”
Parra said the latest project, the Nikiski Community Playground, was recognized as a “world class” facility and the envy of many communities around the state.
Michael Bork, president-elect for the Alaska Recreation and Park Association, nominated Parra for the professional award. Parra is a board member for the association and Bork said in their interactions she represents herself and her community well.
“She is someone who always has a smile on her face and has a positive attitude,” Bork said. “We are fortunate to have her on the board. She likes to take on projects and will do anything to get the best results.”
Bork, Parks and Recreation Director for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, won the professional award in 2012. He said it means a lot to be recognized by state colleagues.
“Some people outside of public service may not understand the amount of hours we work off the books,” he said. “I did some undercover work and spoke with (Parra’s) personnel and they all speak highly of her and that she was deserving of the award.”
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members Wayne Ogle and Kelly Wolf sponsored the resolution. Ogle, who represents the Nikiski area, said he was excited to hear Parra was recognized by the state for her “exemplary directorship.”
“She runs a good operation by skillful doing and works well with legislative people,” Ogle said. “She has an impressive ability to make sure maintenance issues and capital projects needs are attended to. I’m always impressed by her preparedness for community meetings. She runs a tight ship.”
Ogle said the Nikiski Community Playground is the best facility in the entire borough and worthy of the prestigious award. Para was instrumental in advocating for the project to provide more recreational opportunities for the children in the community, he said.
Wolf, who represents the Kalifornsky area, helped the playground project come to completion through his nonprofit, Youth Restoration Corps. The organization obtained a contractor’s license in 2012 and volunteers helped complete the park.
Located between the Nikiski Pool and Community Recreation Center, the playground was designed with a wildlife, nature and industrial theme. The project cost $225,000 paid through a state grant from the Commerce, Community and Economic Development Agency.
After the recreation center took over the former Nikiski Elementary School building, Parra said the complex was lacking an outdoor community playground. From vision to completion the playground project took two years to complete. Parra said she was involved in conversations with legislators and held community meetings to get an understanding of what the community wanted.
Parra said one project that may have been overshadowed by the playground construction was the addition to the wooded trails system and 18-hole Disc Golf Course. The recreation area also has a natural ice rink.
Parra said they have tremendous recreation programs like USA Hockey House, a growing program that teaches hockey skills to kids between the ages of 7-10. The hockey program requires a USA Hockey membership for $45 in addition to the $40 fee for the recreation area.
“We are always striving to improve what we have,” she said. “Our service area is a gem and we have to take care of what we have. Playgrounds are an essential part of the community. They’re what drives people to live in a community and are just as important as a school, church or industry.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.