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What Gainesville parks director wants to do for her new 'welcoming' community
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Kate Mattison has been on the job as Gainesville's new parks director for about a month. She comes from Dublin, Ohio, where she was a recreation services administrator. - photo by Scott Rogers

After about a month on the job, Kate Mattison, Gainesville’s new parks director is settling in and looking ahead.

“Everyone has been so welcoming and so kind. It has been a really wonderful experience so far,” she said.

She started working with the city on May 28 and was previously a recreation services administrator in Dublin, Ohio, her home state. Mattison fills the position formerly held by Melvin Cooper, who retired in May after 47 years working in Gainesville’s parks department.

“There has been so much to learn. I feel like I’ve been overwhelmed with information, but in a good way. There has been so much to learn, especially stepping in after Melvin’s exit,” Mattison said. “He has actually been so kind and wonderful as well, and I’ve seen him several times and talked to him and gotten some advice and opinions.”

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New Gainesville Parks Director Kate Mattison, left, meets with aquatics manager Shannon Parris Wednesday, June 27, 2019, at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center. - photo by Scott Rogers

Mattison joins the department as it is finalizing its master plan, which will guide decisions on parks facilities and programs for the next decade.

“It’s going to be really helpful for me as a professional but for the department overall, it lays out the framework for us for the next 10 years,” Mattison said. “It provides us a path, and it gives us a plan to move forward and implement.”

Trails were a top request from community members as the city gathered public input for the master plan. Walking at Linwood Nature Preserve, Wilshire Trails Park, Ivey Terrace Park and along the Midtown Greenway have been some of Mattison’s favorite experiences since coming to Gainesville, she said.

“That is a beautiful walk. It’s not even like you’re in a city,” she said. “It’s like you’re in a nature center in the middle of the woods.”

Walkability is a trend in recreation, and trails are becoming more popular. Mattison said she is looking forward to working to expand Gainesville’s options.

“Everybody wants a walkable community and walkable neighborhoods. It’s an overall goal nationwide,” she said. “… We have already been working on it, so now I just get to be a part of it.”

Lake Lanier Olympic Park is set to officially become a city park on July 1, and Mattison said the city will work with the park’s foundation to make some improvements, including renovations such as new restrooms.

“We’re working through the details, but we’re really excited about it. … What can we do to improve the overall look of the park and attract more visitors?” she said. “They already have a ton of really awesome things going on, but how can we help promote it the rest of the way?”

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New Gainesville Parks Director Kate Mattison, left, and Amanda Cruce chat Wednesday, June 27, 2019, at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center. - photo by Scott Rogers