Leaving a legacy: Patterson to leave parks department, cites Strawtown Koteewi Park bridge as proud moment

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Al Patterson has had a huge impact on the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Dept. since joining as superintendent in 1992.

At the time, he oversaw 191 acres of park property. Today, the figure is more than 1,600 acres across 13 parks.

After nearly 30 years with the department, Patterson is stepping away from his position. His last day is Feb. 28. He and his wife, Laura, are moving to Wisconsin to spend more time with their daughter Kate, son Aaron, daughter-in-law Kathleen and new grandson, Andrew Walker.

A DESIRE TO BE OUTSIDE

Patterson knew he wanted to be involved in the parks department when he was a student at Belzer Middle School in Lawrence.

“I decided I was going to do this when I was in junior high school,” he said. “I grew up in Lawrence, and I was at Belzer, and my dad was an HR director for a large company here in Indiana, and he would go to Purdue University and do recruiting. When he would go to Purdue, my mom would write a note saying I was sick, and I would go with him. While he was interviewing engineers, I would go and talk to people at the forestry and outdoor recreation department.

“Even when I was in junior high, that’s where I knew I wanted to go and that’s where I knew I wanted to be.”

Patterson never participated in Boy Scouts because he didn’t want to do something that interrupted fishing and playing sports with his dad and brother. Instead, he worked at Camp Otto every summer throughout high school and college. 

“I wanted to be outside,” he said. “I wanted to use that opportunity to help teach people about being outside.”

Patterson graduated from Purdue in 1987 and became superintendent of parks and recreation for the City of Connersville. He spent three years there before being hired for the same position with Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Dept. in 1992.

PROUDEST MOMENTS

During his 28 years, Patterson said he’s most proud of the historical bridge project at Strawtown Koteewi Park in Noblesville. The bridge connects the park to the White River Campground in Cicero. The structure was dedicated in November 2016.

“I worked on it for 15 years,” he said. “We have a picture of me standing on the bridge in its original location in Washington County in 2003. It’s just an amazing project that will be a community icon forever.

“It serves an amazing purpose connecting the campground to Strawtown Koteewi Park.”

Patterson also said he’s proud of the staff the parks department built.

WHAT’S NEXT

Patterson will move to Wisconsin because his immediate family lives there.

“I don’t want to miss this part of their lives,” he said. “I’m not cut out to be a long-distance grandfather.”

In Wisconsin, Patterson will work with the conservation fund for the Milwaukee Municipal Sewer District.

He’ll also spend lots of time fishing.

“My grandson already has two fishing poles, and I haven’t been able to hunt or fish with my son for the last three years because he’s been up there, and I’ll be able to do that,” Patterson said. “I’m going to be a regular on the lakes in the area.”

Patterson lives in Carmel in Coxhall Gardens, a Hamilton County park. A new director for the Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Dept. has not been named as of press time.

Bridging city and state parks

Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Dept. Director Al Patterson said the county parks system should have its own identity apart from city parks and state parks.

“That’s really what the county parks system is designed to be, but it didn’t really exist here until I came onboard in 1992,” he said. “We wanted to make a break from that mold and create a county parks system with passive-oriented parks, meaning we give people a place to recreate.”

Patterson said the restoration of Potter’s Bridge in Noblesville, the only covered bridge in Hamilton County, was the beginning of the new era for the county parks department.

“They closed the bridge to public traffic and then gave it to the parks department to take care of, and then in ‘98 and ’99, we did the restoration of Potter’s Bridge,” he said. “Until then, we were cutting grass, taking care of parks, making improvements. When we did the restoration of Potter’s Bridge, the public appreciation of that project expressed to our elected officials really made a big difference.



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