Looking back on his career, Roger Moellendorf says he never expected to land where he did.
“I always thought I’d be a forest ranger. I fell into Parks and Rec by accident. A happy accident,” he said.
That happy accident is coming to an end this month when Moellendorf, director of Carson City’s Parks, Recreation & Open Space department since 2004, retires.
His departure, just a month after the retirement of Scott Fahrenbruch, director of operations who worked 22 years for the city, marks the end of an era of big changes at the city’s parks and rec department.
“Roger has been an important member of the Carson City community and has worked hard to transform the Parks, Recreation and Open Space opportunities available for residents and visitors to enjoy,” said Nick Marano, city manager. “Roger has made a difference in his community and will be missed. As we used to say in the Marine Corps, fair winds and following seas as you draw your career to a close.”
During Moellendorf’s tenure, Carson City expanded from 1,300 acres of open space land to 7,000 acres through acquisitions and land transfers with the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service as part of the Carson City Lands Bill.
That land acquisition and the new $8.3 million Multi-Athletic Center, built with funds from the 20-year old Quality of Life Initiative is considered by Moellendorf as the department’s biggest achievements during his time there.
Also under his leadership, the Fuji Park Fairgrounds were rebuilt and a popular urban fishing pond added, the busy 3-acre John Mankins Park and the 5-acre Ronald D. Wilson Memorial Park constructed as well as the Morgan Mill Road River Access Area boat ramp and park on the Carson River Aquatic Trail between Carson City and Dayton.
The 7.8 mile Ash Canyon to Kings Canyon Trail was established in partnership with Muscle Powered as well as the Empire Ranch Trail.
“We have a complete system of 12 miles of trail in the east side,” said Moellendorf. “It’s been a very satisfying achievement. I give all credit in the world to staff and volunteers.”
He commends Juan Guzman, the city’s Open Space manager who retired in 2014 and his replacement, Ann Bollinger, open space administrator; Lee Plemel, community development director; Vern Krahn, senior park planner; as well as Fahrenbruch and city managers he has worked with during the years.
“Working with Roger on open space, it’s always been great to have his support,” said Bollinger, who says Moellendorf was instrumental in turning her part-time position into a full-time position as a natural resource specialist when it wasn’t easy to get new staff hours.
That’s been the hard part.
Moellendorf’s career started in 1978 in Fremont, Nebraska, where he was a city forester. He left there in 1983 and moved to Green River, Wyoming, where he spent 21 years, first as a park superintendent and the last 16 years as director of the city’s parks and rec department.
He moved with his family to Carson City to take over the department here and soon the recession hit.
“The main challenge was the economy hit the skids in 2007,” said Moellendorf. “Funding dropped out of the barrel and then there were budget cuts. It delayed a lot of the projects. One of the positives is how much work we were able to get done. It’s a real testament to the diligence of the parks and rec department.”
There’s more to be done, said Moellendorf, including developing a comprehensive master plan for John D. Winters Centennial Park.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges in the next five to 10 years,” he said.
That’s for the next director, whom the city is in the process of hiring. Plans are the new director to then hire his second in command to replace Fahrenbruch.
For Moellendorf, though, the summer will be spent with his wife, three grown children and three grandchildren.
“It will be a busy summer, camping and sightseeing with them,” said Moellendorf. “I haven’t had time to figure out retirement yet.”