Casual Friday: Recreation is a serious business for Tim Barker

Craig Clohessy, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho
·8 min read

Mar. 12—The softball glove within easy reach under Tim Barker's desk at the Lewiston Community Center is the first sign the city's Parks and Recreation director practices what he preaches.

Recreation, in one form or another, is essential to both physical and mental wellness. That's proven to be especially true, though somewhat challenging to adhere to, over the course of a year defined by a pandemic.

Providing recreational opportunities is a big part of the job for Lewiston Parks and Recreation, and Barker and the team he has led for nearly a decade have pushed hard in the last year to find new and innovative ways to meet that mission.

Craig Clohessy: What has changed for Parks and Recreation in the last year in light of COVID-19?

Tim Barker: Quite a bit. This is the time last year that we started looking at moving forward. We typically put out a quarterly program guide, which we haven't done this last year. Programming on the fly is really how we've reacted as far as getting information out. What we found last spring was the second we put something in print that was to be in place for a while, it was canceled or we had to modify it.

Obviously we put in COVID guidelines, regulations as far as the programs that we are able to hold. (Other changes included) some of the numbers of our programs so we could follow state guidelines and providing additional options.

Last spring we had about a month and a half to two months where the city was shut down, so there were a lot of virtual activities that staff were putting together — games, different types of things that families and kids could play at home — even simple daily workouts.

We continue to try to promote the healthy, active lifestyle, even during a pandemic.

One of the big issues we ran into was making sure everybody knew that just because we were in the middle of a pandemic didn't mean they couldn't get out and continue to try to be active. One of our focus areas last spring was to try and promote and encourage people to utilize our park system even if we weren't running any programs at that time.

CC: Have you seen increased usage of the parks?

TB: Yeah, absolutely, but, different types of use. Typically playgrounds get heavily utilized. We did have to shut those down for a few months. We've seen more families interacting out in parks than what we used to. But especially those areas within our community where there's trail systems, those were getting heavily used.

People were able to utilize our picnic shelters for lunches and other things, and that's an area that we really saw expand. ... People, instead of grabbing their lunch and taking it back to the office were going to the park. Without the ability to eat in the restaurants, people were going to the parks.

CC: One of the events that got canceled last year, which Parks and Recreation helps organize annually, was the Seaport River Run. It's coming back this year in April, but will return as a virtual event. What will that look like?

TB: We took the lead from the Bloomsday (run in Spokane) in trying to figure out what we were going to do. By going virtual ... we're going to allow times to be submitted over about a weeklong period. We're going to provide three to four different routes and locations. The traditional 10K along the river will be marked if people just want to go out and do that on their own time. And the shorter race is now going to be a 5K, which is a little bit longer than what the shorter race used to be. It was 2.9 (miles). It's now going to be 3.1, which is a true 5K. Community Park Trail along the exterior of the park (in the Lewiston Orchards by the new high school) is 3.1 miles and so that's going to be a great option for the 5K.

We're kind of excited about that too, because then individuals that haven't gone up there can go check out the development and things that are happening out there.

It's not a (marathon) qualifier for anything, but if someone wants to submit their timing, there's ways they can do that with GPS.

CC: You're coming up on your 10-year anniversary as director of Lewiston Parks and Recreation. What led to your interest in this career?

TB: It's really funny. I was probably in my second year in college and not sure what I wanted to do for the summer. I looked in the paper in Tacoma and found selling knives for the summer through Cutco. ... Well, I always tell people that Cutco knives led me into my career in that I realized I didn't enjoy (doing sales).

YMCAs over on the west side are very similar to a Boys & Girls Club, and so I applied as a camp counselor for a day camp over there making a whoppin' $30 a day, working 10-hour days. It got me into thinking, "Well, I want to do something I really enjoy." I headed into my junior year and really started rethinking what different types of degrees I could get at my school, and there was a Bachelor of Arts in recreation.

I was going through the communications program as well for public relations, and I really liked the marketing and PR side and thought that combining the recreation and public relations would be helpful moving forward in a career in recreation.

CC: What brought you to Lewiston?

TB: It was a national recruitment they did for the assistant director position. Lynn Moss (then the Parks and Recreation director) had decided to upgrade a recreation coordinator position. ... He was looking at an opportunity to potentially bring somebody on that could take over for him when he chose to retire.

I really honestly didn't know Lewiston existed. I was always a west sider. ... But it was a new opportunity. I wanted to stay in the Northwest ... so I looked up the community, liked the climate and just thought it would be a good spot for me to land for the time being. I didn't know how long I'd be here.

I think the challenges that I've had here definitely provided what I've needed to want to stick around. There's always things that need to get accomplished.

CC: Was it a good move?

TB: Yeah, I absolutely enjoy it out here. ... My kids moved here a year after I started, and my oldest daughter was a first grader at the time. Now she's a freshman in college at Whitworth. And my youngest is a freshman at the new high school. It's been a great community to raise my daughters.

It's just such a giving community. I'm very involved in different nonprofits in the community and just being able to see that interaction with donors and just what the nonprofits do has been pretty awesome to be a part of.

CC: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

TB: We're trying to continually evolve with trends in recreation. ... There's a lot more push for individualized-type programs, so things we're developing include the mountain biking and hiking trail systems, that's a big trend.

The disc golf coming in, it's been almost 10 years since that's been in place. That's still a big program.

There's also intergenerational-type activities like pickleball that is going to continue to grow. Five years ago, we had a few pickleballers that wintered down south and then came and played here during the summer. I think our club is now up to almost 250 members. I call it intergenerational because we have a lot of younger families that are out playing with their kids, and then we also have our retired folks that really are the ones that have brought the game to the community.

Clohessy is managing editor of the Lewiston Tribune. He may be contacted at cclohessy@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2251.

Name: Timothy John Barker

Age: 45

City of residence: Lewiston

Title/occupation: Lewiston Parks and Recreation director.

Family: Daughters Makenna, 18, and Addison, 14.

Education: Pacific Lutheran University Bachelor of Arts degrees in recreation and public relations.

Work history: Metro Parks Tacoma, athletics supervisor; city of Wilsonville, Ore., recreation coordinator; city of Portland, recreation coordinator and center supervisor; city of Lewiston, assistant Parks and Recreation director and Parks and Recreation director.

Hobbies/interests: Golf, kayaking, pickleball, Lewis-Clark State College athletics, being around friends and traveling.

Do you have any hidden talents, or is there anything else that might surprise people about you?: Played piano for nine years as a kid. Sang in a quartet in high school along with two other school groups. Was recruited to play soccer in college. "I am an agency accreditation visitor for the National Recreation and Park Association. I used to caddie at a celebrity golf tournament and was able to meet numerous pro athletes."