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Noblesville Parks Director Don Seal announces his retirement after 21 years

There are many ways to illustrate Don Seal’s impact on the City of Noblesville over the 21 years he’s led the parks department, but it’s the little things that people miss – the shade under a tree he’s planted, the enjoyment children get out of a piece of playground equipment he picked out or the sounds of live music that fill the summer evenings.

“If you look at the last 21 years, Don has had an effect on every facet of Forest Park,” Mayor John Ditslear said, adding Seal has also opened Dillon Park and provided upgrades to Seminary and Southside parks. “His leadership to the Noblesville Common Council created 184 acres for the future Eastside Park. There are lots of things he’s provided citizens in the parks under his leadership.”

“Virtually everything manmade, I’ve either built or remodeled with Randy (Neff of the parks maintenance staff),” Seal said. “We’ve been planting 20 trees a year the last 10 years.”

Seal began his parks career in Anderson in January 1972. After 20 and a half years, he was recruited to come to Noblesville and transform the city’s amenities. The landscape of Noblesville and the parks department was quite different when Seal started in August 1992.

“I wish I had taken a picture,” he said. “Forest Park had suffered greatly, not because of a lack of effort of the parks director at the time, but because of a lack of thought given. Overhead lines ran throughout the park. There was a lot of old play equipment and a lot of dangerous play equipment in the park.”

“Today’s park was not what was here in 1992. There was one bathroom and playground in the park,” he continued, adding a concession stand and shooting galley was nonfunctional. “It was a good park but it hadn’t been given a bit of attention to quality of life. I think Mary Sue (Rowland, Noblesville mayor at that time) saw that. She had an emphasis on quality of life issues.”

Seal said one park structure was built – and barely standing – from previous materials found on the property.

“Shelter No. 1 literally was an old pig barn,” he said.

Another concerning issue was getting to the park.

“You literally couldn’t get here. There was no safe way to get to Forest Park. You either crossed railroad tracks or drove here by car. It also used to flood all the time,” he said.

Seal said his vision since the beginning was to make the parks as usable and safe as possible and “to raise the expectations of what people expected from the parks”

“My greatest challenge when I first came here it was the Noblesville Parks and Golf Dept. There was virtually no recreational programming. It made sense at the time. Now we offer a full menu of programs but that took a long time,” he said.

Seal has not had any controversial topics during his tenure but said the most interesting challenge came from an agreement between Forest Park and Deer Creek Music Center. The music venue paid for extra security, bathrooms and showers so followers of the Grateful Dead could camp out.

“People saw that as an element they didn’t want in Noblesville,” he said. “The people that called to order a campsite also setup a tee time. Most were blue-collar workers who followed the Dead because that’s what they did.”

Seal his two biggest accomplishments are Hoosier Park race track in Anderson, which used to be a city park, and the creation of Dillon Park in Noblesville.

“It was fabulous to build a new city park from scratch. It’s an incredibly successful park,” Seal said. “Good parks have water, typography and vegetation. Dillon Park has all three and other amenities.”

Seal, who turns 67 in December, said he was tired after 42 years of service.

“It’s just time to hand it off,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll consult and I’ll find other things to keep me busy. I’ll continue working with the parks foundation. After 42 years of parks work behind you, you can’t just walk away.”

Bennett named as successor

Assistant Parks Director Brandon Bennett will assume the director’s title on Jan. 17 when Don Seal retires.Bennett, Brandon

“Brandon’s a big guy, but he’s got big shoes to fill. He’s a great young man with great talents,” Mayor John Ditslear said. “We’re fortunate to have a young guy like Brandon. He’s worked in all aspects of the park department. Brandon will continue and improve what Don’s been able to accomplish.”

Seal, who recently announced his retirement plans, was happy to hear of Bennett’s acceptance and believes it will provide stability as the department transitions.

“I always assumed it would be Brandon,” he said. “It’s much easier knowing he’s the guy.”

Bennett, a Noblesville native, did a summer internship and has worked in the parks department for the past 16 years.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “Don has certainly left his mark on the community. I feel blessed they had him as a leader in the department … He assembled a fantastic team and I’m walking into a very positive situation.”

Bennett plans to follow Seal’s lead and continue moving the department in the same direction “to provide great recreational opportunities for the community.” Bennett said the biggest lesson he learned under Seal was how to treat people.

“If you treat people right you will get a lot of goals accomplished,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s been more than just a boss over the years and that’s special. It’s an honor to follow him.”

 How has Don Seal impacted the parks department?

* Put in place the first park impact fee for Noblesville, which has generated nearly $15 million to date.

* Directed the development of the Noblesville Alternative Transportation Plan resulting in the creation of more than 80 miles of trail and the designation of 10 miles of blue way.

* Replaced Fox Prairie Golf Course’s irrigation system, added nine holes, built a new maintenance building and constructed a new pro shop, outing pavilion and cart barn.

* Added 15 acres to double the size of the soccer complex on 196th Street.

* Developed the Hague Road Wetlands and the Nature Haven Concept, installed a pedestrian bridge over Cicero Creek and trail connected the wetlands to South Harbour subdivision.

* Built four new lighted basketball courts on the old Conner School grounds.

* Acquired 200 acres and developed the master plan for East Side Park.

* Acquired 77 acres and developed Dillon Park. He also negotiated the contract for the cell tower which will result in nearly $1.5 million in revenue.

* Expanded Southside Park’s land to include the entire square block and constructed the shelter and playground.

* Replaced the gazebo and installed a new playground at Seminary Park.

* Acquired the portable stage for concerts and events.

* Projects include the paths on each side of 146th Street from Ind. 37 to Hamilton Town Center, pedestrian bridge on Lakeview Drive, trail from Forest Park to Morse Beach, and the Stony Creek trail, bridge and connection.

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