Amy McMillan, Director of the Genesee County Parks & Recreation Commission, has the best job in the world. In her official role, she not only works very hard, but also gets to enjoy what she is most passionate about — bicycling, kayaking and enjoying the great outdoors. In addition, she has the best view in Genesee County right outside her office window, overlooking Mott Lake.”The bird watching is great!” she exclaims. “I’ve seen bald eagles, deer and the march of the turtles to the lake! The turtles are my favorite.”
Amy’s love for the outdoors began while growing up on her family’s farm in Midland County. “It’s a Centennial Farm and we’re proud of it,” she shares. She began working for Parks & Recreation at just 14 years old, volunteering at a special needs summer camp her cousin was attending. And it continued from there. During her first summer in college, she received a call from the City of Midland Parks & Recreation Department, offering her an opportunity to work at the landfill. In those six weeks, she not only got an incredible tan and a taste of physical labor, but also got a real inside look at how the department operated. “These workers are the most important people in the organization,” she reports. “It was a tremendous life lesson for me.”
For nine years prior to her current position, Amy served as the park director in Ypsilanti. She became the director of the GCPRC in September 1999. She oversees 11,000 acres for the largest county park system in Michigan – a staff of 30 full-time employees, and 300 seasonal employees. The staff includes office workers, park rangers and a maintenance department. There are also many dedicated volunteers.
“Parks bring people together, and it makes me proud to see
that the work I do is important to so many people.”
Amy’s workday actually begins before she leaves the house, when she starts looking at emails as early as 5am. “One great thing about my job is that there is really no typical day!” she exclaims. And, she really has no set hours, as there are parks in the system that are open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Amy arrives at the GCPRC office on Stanley Road between 7:30-8:30am and does a walk around the office, greeting the staff. She also meets with her assistant, Deb Wilkes. Much of the morning consists of meetings and on the day of MCM’s visit, the director met with Evergreen Development Corporation regarding the restoration and re-opening of Bunche Elementary School. She also attended a meeting regarding the River Rally Conference. “All of the days just flow into each other when you have a seven-day operation,” Amy says. She enjoys having regular meetings with many other agencies and organizations.
A couple of times a week, Amy likes to have lunch at her home in Flint’s Cultural Center area, so she can check on her furry friends (dogs and cats). “I then drive through a couple of parks on my way back to the office,” she says. “Our management strategy is to walk around and see what’s going on. We have an extraordinary team of talented people who work really hard,” Amy adds. “They are the people who make things happen. All I do is make sure nothing gets in their way and I get to see all of our great work in action.”
Amy attends more meetings, most of which are out of the office. She also works on programs that are her direct responsibility. “I have an open-door policy with the team,” Amy explains. The staff includes four full-time park rangers who are certified police officers, and 45 seasonal park rangers of which many are retired police officers from local jurisdictions. Seven full-time park maintenance employees handle duties including mowing grass and upkeep on restrooms, the Splash Pad at Bluebell Beach and the campgrounds, to name a few. They have the help of 60-80 seasonal maintenance workers. “There is nothing they can’t fix,” she boasts.
The director keeps her bicycle at work and often rides it to check on nearby parks and trails. She also uses a kayak to travel around the park area. “It is work, but it doesn’t always feel like work,” she says with a smile. What the director spends little time doing is handling complaints. “We have an incredibly low number of complaints,” she admits. “We take our work very seriously and are proud of what we do. I don’t spend much time putting out fires.”
Amy usually leaves the office about 5:30pm, but that doesn’t mean the workday is over. On this day, she attended an all-staff meeting from 5-8pm. It’s not uncommon for her to be answering telephone calls and emails at 9pm.
Does she have any time for fun? “I love being outdoors,” the director says. “That is my fun. I even like to mow my lawn, because I love the smell of fresh-cut grass.” What she enjoys most is taking her dogs for long walks and spending time with her horse, a spirited Hanoverian thoroughbred. “I also love to ride my bike and be out on a river in my kayak. The upper stretches of the Flint River are insanely beautiful on the watershed.”
On Saturdays during the summer, Amy gets up and visits all of the parks. “I have a standard route, starting at the eastern edge,” she reports. Every Sunday evening, she visits the Genesee Recreation area. Sometimes, she will find a quiet spot in one of the parks and just lay on the grass looking up at the sky. “That’s complete peace.”
When asked what she does best, Amy answers, “I hire talented people. That’s what makes it work as an organization.” And at the end of the day, she can’t complain about her job or life, in general. “I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity in this community with this organization,” she shares. “Parks bring people together, and it makes me proud to see that the work I do is important to so many people.”
Photography by Eric Dutro