News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 30, 2013

3 in their 30s

The young take reins at parks

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A trio of 30-somethings is putting into action its collective vision for Vigo County parks.

Kara Kish, 31, tapped midyear to take over for retiring superintendent Keith Ruble, has been Vigo County’s assistant parks superintendent since August 2009.

Adam Grossman, 30, came on board as assistant superintendent, bringing his scientific knowledge of the environment and his love of the outdoors.

Amber Slaughterbeck, 30, hired as a natural resource programmer, is helping build an active, vibrant system of parks activities.

“It was about getting the right team in here,” Kish said. “First and foremost, we needed to look for a dynamic assistant superintendent. I bring a lot of skills to the table such as administrative, budget, vision planning, land acquisition and development.

“I needed someone who would complement my skill sets, with fleet management, forestry and aquatics,” she said. “Adam was the ideal candidate, and he has exceeded every day” since his hiring in May. “The level of expertise and the detail-oriented nature that he brings to every project he has been working on has been stellar,” Kish said.

Slaughterbeck’s position stemmed from one of Kish’s goals to move the department toward national accreditation through the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies, which measures quality of operations, management and services to a community.

Different paths

While at the parks department as an assistant, Kish continued her education, earning a master’s of public affairs degree with a concentration in public management from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis In 2010. She holds a bachelor’s degree in recreational and sports management with an emphasis in park and community recreation from Indiana State University, and she is a certified playground safety inspector. She previously was a recreation program coordinator at Fishers Park and Recreation Department.

Kish is also the past president of the Indiana Park and Recreation Association and part of the young professional network leadership team for the National Recreation and Park Association.

Grossman is a 2009 graduate of Indiana State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in ecology and organismal biology.

“I always knew I wanted to work outside in the environment,” he said. “I grew up in Clay City, so I spent time in the Vigo County parks, even working as a seasonal employee in 2008,” when he built a log cabin alongside Ruble.

Slaughterbeck joined the team in June. She is originally from Lafayette, but has been in Terre Haute for 11 years. She is on track by year’s end to earn a bachelor’s degree in history/social science with a minor in environmental studies from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

She previously worked for a year as a naturalist intern for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at Turkey Run State Park. There, she spoke to more than 6,000 people in more than 500 programs.

The three bring those combined experiences to the job of advancing Vigo’s parks, which already regularly received plaudits for their quality and development.

More programming ahead

Getting the parks nationally accredited is a goal Kish hopes to accomplish in the next five years.

A part of that effort is to offer recreational programs, which is scheduled to begin in January. In addition to recreational programming, the parks will establish nature shops.

“I am very aware of expectations nationwide,” said Kish, a board member of the National Recreation and Park Association. “We were one of the few parks departments that I could name that did not provide recreational programming.”

Slaughterbeck’s programming ideas have been well-received in the community, where she has found experts, volunteers and partners to help carry out the vision.

“We will offer quite a bit of hikes throughout the parks, as well as workshops such as making bird houses,” part of a series to teach people how to make their back yard into a wildlife habitat, she said.

The first park program will be a slide show on wildlife photography. The program will feature Daniel Griggs, a Parke County photographer who worked alongside photographers with National Geographic, Slaughterbeck said.

Expanding collaboration

“We are also partnering with a lot agencies,” she said. “In the Vigo County [Public] Library, we will have storytimes on hibernation and planting flowers. We will also work with the Will Center for programs,” on activities for those with disabilities.

Other collaborators include Indiana State University and SMWC professors, who will give talks on nature topics ranging from bees to flowers, and the Astronomical Society, which will host a star show.

The parks department will continue its partnership with Crossroads Events Management, which staged a “zombie race” this year along a trail in the Wabashiki State Fish & Wild Life Area. Also, Union Hospital will partner for an “I walk” program, a backpacking/hiking program for mothers to bring babies or toddlers.

“During that program, mothers will have their BMI [body mass index] tracked to show their progress and how much healthier they are from hiking” with their youngsters, Slaughterbeck said.

“The county parks has never done anything like this. The main goal is to get people connected to our parks and to nature.”

Slaughterbeck said she thinks when people learn to identify different species of trees or plants and flowers, they can begin to understand natural habitats and “then you start to appreciate it. That is our goal,” she said.

Protecting habitats

Understanding those natural habitats is an area of expertise for Grossman — as is watching the dollars.

He got his feet wet early, undertaking analysis of the water spillway at Fowler Park’s Ruble Lake to ensure that the dam meets new state standards. Other projects have included installation of culvert pipes under roads in Hawthorn and Fowler parks and rebuilding sections of trails.

 “I’ve not had a down moment,” he said. “There are the regular mechanical issues. Our main [sewer] lift station went down at Fowler Park this year, so that required a repair with $7,000 pumps.”

Grossman says he is careful with the county’s money, replacing some high-maintenance, gas-guzzling vehicles with more fuel-efficient, four-wheeled RTVs (rough terrain vehicles).

“We are replacing them with smaller RTVs, the little four-wheel machines, to save on gas. That was a main emphasis when I got here as our fuel usage was too high,” Grossman said.

Saving is also on Grossman’s radar when it comes to limiting the impact of the emerald ash borer — a non-native beetle that attacks all native varieties of ash trees — on the parks’ canopy of trees. He is undergoing training and will be certified in February to apply and purchase chemicals to treat the trees, beginning in the spring. “We now have about 200 trees that will be treated,” in Fowler, Hawthorn and Prairie Creek parks, he said.

Fowler has the most ash trees, which provide about 60 percent of the natural tree shade for campers in that park. “Trees are valuable, the aesthetics of them, but also if you lose them, there are erosion problems,” Grossman said.

Grossman said land management is one of his strengths. While in college, he worked as a naturalist aide on an osprey reintroduction program for the Indiana DNR. The large fish-eating raptor had its numbers reduced in the state from past use of the pesticide, DDT. Grossman also was involved in a GPS tree survey for the City of Terre Haute, as well as for ISU, and helped Greene County work on a water quality plan and grant funding.

After college, he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture on an emerald ash borer survey, placing purple boxes in trees in Vigo and Sullivan counties. He also worked for two years with the Indiana Department of Transportation as a construction inspector.

“That gave me a lot of knowledge of pipe structure and drainage and road construction,” he said, which he can put to use in maintaining trails.

In the future, parks visitors could see more native prairie grasses and increased fishing opportunities as the parks department works to stem erosion and create a healthier fish population. As Grossman said, “We have a lot of projects yet to do.”

We meaning that 30-something trio he forms with Kish and Slaughterbeck.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or