KLCC's Oregon Rainmakers: Michael Wargo, Executive Director, Willamalane Park and Recreation District
A conversation with Michael Wargo, Executive Director of Willamalane Park and Recreation District and host, Michael Dunne
What I love most about Willamalane is that you name an activity, we’ve probably hosted it.Michael Wargo
In many ways, Michael Wargo, the Executive Director for Willamalane Park and Recreation, was destined for the job.
“I grew up on the East Coast and I absolutely loved parks, outdoor activities, and sports,” he said. “After my sports career in high school and college, I knew two things; I would never become a pro athlete, but I would make a career in sports and recreation.”
Armed with that desire, Wargo embarked on a career which would take him all over the country, managing college sports programs, sports companies, and parks and recreation departments.
Eventually, his experiences led him to Springfield and the incredibly complex and diverse entity that is Willamalane – a special tax district within the city that includes 47 parks, miles of trails, a dozen sports fields, five recreation facilities, waterfronts, and 28 playgrounds.
“We are as diverse an organization as you’ll find in Oregon,” Wargo said. “Which makes sense because we were the first special tax district in the state, when we were founded in 1944.”
Wargo believes that the special tax district designation is a huge advantage to managing such a large organization. “Unlike a single department within a city where you often have to fight over a piece of the pie, we are the entire pie,” he said. “We don’t have to compete with other very worthy departments like police and fire for funding in order to build something like a playground which may not be vital to safety, but is vital to overall community well-being.”
Another aspect of Willamalane that Wargo deeply appreciates is the interactivity between the organization and the public it serves.
“We have a publicly elected board whose members are each deeply committed to parks and recreation. We are also updating our comprehensive plan where we’ve received more than 4,500 communications from the public to determine how we can continue to improve and offer more and more services.”
If past is prologue, Willamalane will take those public comments and develop even more diverse programs for an ever-growing constituency.
“What I love most about Willamalane is that you name an activity, we’ve probably hosted it.” Wargo said. “From car shows to craft brew events, you really never know what you are going to see.”