By Kerry Pipes
James Fish has spent a quarter century working in and overseeing public parks and he says that experience makes his current job as senior parks planner for Mansfield, “second nature.”
The 50-year-old west Texas native is a quick study who loves his role managing and developing city parks and providing safe beautiful outdoor facilities for its citizens. Although Fish has only been at the helm since last October, he’s been around these parts before. He held the position during his previous tenure from 2002 through 2009 before leaving to own and operate his own company in the private sector. Turns out he just couldn’t stay away from the job he loved so much.
Growing up in the panhandle of Texas taught Fish about hard work. He came from a family line of ranchers and farmers and his father was a self-employed mechanic. “There’s a work ethic involved there,” he says, “if you want something you have to work for it.” But he says he also learned important lessons in being a part of the greater community where everyone works together to make things happen. “I was also taught that less is more and quality is always better than quantity.” These traits have been an important part of his professional career.
He worked his way through Texas Tech University - where he was first exposed to landscape architecture. He graduated in 1987 and took his first job as a park designer/project coordinator for Lexington/Fayette Urban County in Kentucky. He says that first job provided the opportunity to explore new products, learn about cutting edge design, and about providing recreational facilities and opportunities for communities. The experience allowed him to oversee and develop parks and aquatic facilities.
In 1995, Fish moved back to Texas and took a position as a landscape architect with the city of Fort Worth, then became park planner for the city of Arlington in 1996, where he stayed until coming to Mansfield in 2002. He served as park planner and senior park planner during his first stint with the city. “I have worked with, planned and designed nature areas with Lexington, Fort Worth and Arlington,” he says.
As senior park planner for Mansfield, Fish is responsible for things like project planning, design and construction activities for the parks system and facilities as outlined in the Parks, Recreation, Trails and Open Spaces Master Plan. There’s a healthy dose of people management and budgeting responsibilities thrown in there, too. He also oversees citywide beautification projects and assists with preparing and implementing the parks strategic business plan. All of it is carried out with an eye on quality.
“If you build quality and pay attention to detail your long-term maintenance and the return is better, plus those qualities are what the public wants in its parks systems or services the government provides,” he says.
Fish says the parks department works in tandem with other city departments, and it too, is being affecting by the city’s growth. He says the department tries to “stay out in front” of the needs created by city’s growth and he thinks they’re doing a good job.
No day is typical for the department staff or Fish, who says any day can be quickly rearranged by a single phone call or management request. Regular day-to-day activities for the parks maintenance department include mowing and keeping the parks clean, working with maintenance contractors and preparing the facilities for the youth sports organizations that use them. “My regular day involves planning activities for existing and future development working with contractors, securing new contracts and responding to requests,” says Fish.
He says it’s important for Mansfield to continue to acquire land and build parks while continuing to maintain and improve existing parks. All of it by maximizing dollars and making sure they are wisely spent. “The next five years should see Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park complete with the Walnut Creek Linear Trail in place to Joe Pool Lake,” he says. “We would also like to see significant land acquisitions to provide for future parks and recreation facilities.”
Always looking ahead Fish sees continued growth in Mansfield, especially in terms of residential development. “Mansfield has the professional staff in place to strategically grow the city and has strong leadership to make it happen.”
And the parks department is lucky to have a talented senior parks planner like Fish – for the second time.
Personal Q&A with Mansfield’s Senior Park Planner James Fish
A panhandle upbringing taught James Fish to appreciate hard work and love the outdoors. The Texas Tech grad has been in parks planning management for the past 25 years and is currently Mansfield’s senior parks planner. The 50-year-old father of two is in his sweet spot with the parks department. But life is not all about making the parks department bigger and better. We sat down with Fish to find out more about his life outside of work. Here’s some of what we found out.
What do you like most about the community of Mansfield? Mansfield is friendly and it feels good but it’s a small city that is growing up rapidly.
How do you spend your free time? Hobbies? Interests? I enjoy my kids’ activities, fishing, photography, technology, shooting sports and water activities.
Where do you like to eat in Mansfield? Our Place, Cha Cha’s and, of course, MaryLou’s on Main Street. I do enjoy Steven’s Garden & Grill since it’s right behind our office.
Do you go see movies? Which ones? Museums? Theater? Last movie I saw was “Man of Steel.” I enjoy small comedy theater.
What’s the last book you read? Books? With my busy hectic schedule I haven’t read a book in years. But the last I remember is Ringworld by Larry Niven. When I played Halo it kind of reminded me of the book.
Do you have a favorite quote? I have many, but this one comes to mind. “Whatever you may do, do it with passion.” I also like this one, “Live today as if it is your last, but don’t forget to plan for tomorrow.”
Who or what inspires you? “Positivity inspires.” The thought of ‘yes you can if you try.’
Do you travel? Where? Some, not much. I traveled so much with the business that I’m almost a recluse now. But I enjoy Lake Travis, love those Florida Panhandle beaches and the Southern Rockies.