The Koolers Lifestyle Podcast: Ken Sherbenou on the Connection Between Mental Health and Outdoor Spaces

00:00:00 Matthew Kuehlhorn
What can you expound on or point to as far as what is currently in place? And I mean how would you summarize what is under the Parks and Recreation management?

00:00:13 Ken Sherbenou
So I think we again we have a amazing Parks and Recreation system here in in the the the city of Grand Junction that we have and we have a lot to be proud of. This 35 developed parks that ranges from your regional facilities which are canny view, Las Colonias, Lincoln Park down to your more Community level which are like Eagle Rim Park and some of the more community sized 15 to 20 acre size parks down to the small more pocket. Works. So we offer a lot in terms of our developed ARK system, but we also have in addition to that a lot of other infrastructure that we provide for the communities benefit like those trails that you mentioned. It’s really exciting to see trail expansion like for example we just got funding from Gregors, Colorado to help us working with the cholera W Land Trust extend the trail that currently goes from downtown to the lot, the large loop trailhead all the way up to South camp. Yeah. And so we’ll be able to complete the Redlands Loop and so we.

00:01:18 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Welcome to the Cooler Lifestyle podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kuehlhorn, and I’m excited to have you join me as I interview community members and business leaders from the communities in which I live, work, and serve through my business cooler garage doors. We’re going to bring you highlights on characters in our communities. Why? Because Community matters, and I want to know more about who is behind our business and leadership in order to understand and support that. Community fabric that our relationships make up, and collectively we can build stronger communities that support our lifestyles, our youth, and our health. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Cooler Lifestyle Podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kuehlhorn, and today I have Ken Sherbenou joining. He’s the Parks and Recreation director for the Grand Junction or for the City of Grand Junction. Excuse me, can welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here.

00:02:16 Ken Sherbenou
Hey, Matt. Thank you so much for having me.

00:02:17 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Absolutely.

00:02:19 Ken Sherbenou
It would be here.

00:02:20 Matthew Kuehlhorn
It’s such a pleasure to get to know new faces and new folks. You and I have not met or talked too much prior to this, so I’m curious, where did you grow up, Ken?

00:02:31 Ken Sherbenou
So I’m a Colorado native, 4th, 3rd generation I guess. My kids, the 4th generation, grew up on the Front Range and went to school at University of Colorado and worked for Denver Parks and REC for a little while. Was parks rec consultant over there. And then I came to this side of the hill and was in Montrose for almost a decade and I’ve been here for about 3 1/2 years. So right on. That’s kind of the quick of my story.

00:02:55 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Did you study parks and rec and and management specifically in school?

00:03:02 Ken Sherbenou
It’s a great question. I actually my undergrad was political science and economics.

00:03:05 Matthew Kuehlhorn
OK.

00:03:06 Ken Sherbenou
So I actually use those degrees to kind of look at Parks and Recreation through the lens of its economic impact, as well as understanding how to navigate the political landscape to help Parks and Recreation progress as far as possible. My Masters degree is in public administration, hey, and that’s where I had a little bit more specialty focus on Parks and Recreation. One of my big projects during my master’s degree was doing some consulting work for parks and Rec, for actually Denver Parks and Rec. That led to a future position with them. So that’s where some of my specialty knowledge comes from in Parks and Recreation related to my education. Yeah.

00:03:51 Matthew Kuehlhorn
What it really cool. Combination because it my understanding is it is an interweaving of some. Politic pieces, economics, um parks and Rec does have a huge economic impact on communities.

00:04:10 Ken Sherbenou
Yeah, I I like to think that I the lens that I come with is has been useful in my career. I think that you’re spot on that there’s a tremendous amount of economic impact that happens from communities that have strong Parks and Recreation systems. Going back to your first question about where I grew up, I actually grew up in Littleton and we had the South suburban Parks and Recreation District and that entity was core to my upbringing participation with youth basketball, like my Son starts on tonight with his. First, experience in our youth basketball program with Grand Junction, Parks and Rec, as well as with swimming and all sorts of activities going to the rec Center in Littleton where I grew up and I didn’t know at the time, but that was actually going to have a pretty big impact on the career that I would pursue. I will say that I fortunately do work with a lot of folks with this specific Parks and Recreation degree. So a lot of the staff on my team really know how to well organize activities that we provide at our different facilities. And I think what I bring to the table is, is kind of a from an educational experience perspective provides another another way to to view our system and to help it grow and to help it mature. And it’s wonderful to be here in Grand Junction because there’s. A lot to be proud of, a lot of amazing facilities, but we also have some that are missing or need improvement. So it’s really fun to to work on that for the communities back, but I love.

00:05:42 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That and I would agree there’s there’s a lot of opportunities within Grand Junction. And you know, when I go onto the website and I start seeing 350 acres of developed parks and 21 miles of trails like it’s significant. What can you expound on or point to as far as what is currently in place? And I mean how would you summarize what is under the Parks and Recreation management?

00:06:09 Ken Sherbenou
So I I think we again we have a amazing Parks and Recreation system here in in the the the city of Grand Junction that we have and we have a lot to be proud of. The 35 developed parks that ranges from your regional facilities which are canny view, Las Colonias, Lincoln Park down to your more Community level which are like Eagle Rim Park and some of the more community size 15 to 20 acre size parks down to the small more pocket. Works, so we offer a lot in terms of our developed park system. But we also have in addition to that a lot of other infrastructure that we provide for the communities benefit like those trails that you mentioned. It’s really exciting to see trail expansion like for example, we just got funding from great outdoors Colorado to help us working with the cholera W Land Trust extend the trail that currently goes from downtown to the lot, the large loop trailhead all the way up to South camp. And so we’ll be able to complete the Redlands loop. And so we are very involved in supporting. Trail development, we’re very involved in horticulture in providing all the beautiful flowers that you see downtown as well as in our public spaces, the roundabouts and medians, those sorts of things within the parks themselves. So there’s there’s a lot that goes into parks and rec that’s more than more than just the developed parks.

00:07:37 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I absolutely get that. And in one of the articles I was doing a little research on you before this conversation and I pulled out a quote. That I just love and. Play is serious business.

00:07:53 Ken Sherbenou
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s I’m remembering the article referencing. I think my message was to to emphasize that. It gives a lot, it adds a lot to the quality of life in a community and your accessibility to quality places to connect and be active is extremely important for the strength of communities. I think that you look at some of our facilities that are really highly utilized like Canyon View Park, you know that was a dream 20 years ago and and there was some amazing community leaders that had the foresight to develop that 110 acre. Epicenter of our community and now we have thousands. We have 5 to 6000 people visit that park every weekend in the spring and in the fall for soccer, lacrosse, football, that mazing playground that we have that’s I think is kind of like a Disneyland of the Western slope. And we have these amazing facilities that that add so much to the people’s experience here and it’s really wonderful and it’s really an honor to be a part of. Supporting, providing those great services.

00:09:05 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love the passion. How do we measure whether it’s an economic impact or, I mean, I just think of even mental health and protective factors in a community. Parks and Rec are a part of that. Are there like specific measure points that you guys focus on as far as being able to like say here’s an impact that we’re making in the positive direction?

00:09:31 Ken Sherbenou
Yeah, I love that. Now that focus on measurability cause that definitely is a big focus of mine professionally, is to try to quantify our level of service on the recreation side. That’s a lot easier to do because we can count how many people sign up for youth basketball, how many people sign up for the adult softball program or swim lessons or come to some of our indoor facilities. When it comes to outdoor facilities, there’s a lot more of a challenge to really understand how much utilization there is on trails or access. To the parks. And so that’s something that we work on to try to understand how to best continue to serve the community. It makes me think of two things. Your great question makes me think of two things. One is the the Parks and Recreation and Open Space Master plan that we just adopted in 2021, that City Council adopted in 2021, that grew out of a tremendous amount of public input and feedback through surveys and focus groups and public meetings that really helped us understand what we’re most. What the highest needs were of the community. And so that’s one of the ways that we understand how to invest our finite resources to best serve the community. The other thing you made me think of is your question about mental health, and that makes me think of the pandemic and makes me think about all the stress and increased. Stress that came out of the pandemic and what a lifeline Parks and Recreation open space was for for folks going through going through that tough time.

00:11:03 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, and that is. Likely something that has created an influx. I’ve seen it up in Gunnison, I see it down in Grand Junction. People are are leaving some of the more populated zones of cities and and coming to the western slope of Colorado. Is that impacting the plan? Is it shifting anything or is it just something to observe and and be attentive to?

00:11:28 Ken Sherbenou
Yeah, I think it’s definitely impacting the plan that that that’s that translates into a greater demand and greater need and really lights a fire under us to be as responsive as we can to try to meet that additional new demand. I’ll tell you that we’re very fortunate. In 2021, after the Parks and Parks and Recreation Open Space Master Plan was adopted by City Council, there was an election for legalization of cannabis within the city of Grand Junction. And when the voters asked of that, we made sure to tell them what additional, what we do with the additional tax revenue that would be generated if they decided to legalize. Yeah, just as palisade and tobacco has been legal for for quite some time. And we actually put it in the battle language that that devoted that that that tax revenue from marijuana sales to Parks and Recreation and to help us. Meet that increased demand that we are seeing? Yeah, from the community. And as people move here, they’re, they’re looking for quality of life, amenities, they’re looking for pickleball course, they’re looking for trails, they’re looking for all sorts of facilities that help enhance their quality of life.

00:12:43 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That’s right. That’s right. It’s a huge attractor. And just as a side note, I find it interesting, you know, you mentioned the cannabis tax and that is such a a potential resource. Little bit double edged. In some ways I found it interesting. I was our counties substance abuse prevention director for Gunnison County in 2012 when the state legalized and. Gunnison opened up relatively quickly, Mesa County and Grand Junction held out, and I just find some of the dynamics fascinating. In how that all plays and yet there’s that potential resource if done well to put in those taxes that can ultimately build other protective factors and and continue building resources for the community.

00:13:38 Ken Sherbenou
I I think you’re exactly right. You’re spot on. That’s I think what the voters wanted to see when they’re contemplated legalization. Yeah. About how it would help our community. I think the conclusion was that we have the negatives that come from cannabis use and consumption especially since most municipalities had legalized already in the in the state of Colorado and they wanted to see some benefit come out of that use that was here already. Also say, too, that there’s a lot of advantage to being late to the game. Because I think our, our, our entity has studied and really understood what went well and other places and what didn’t go so well. Yeah. So I think that’s going to position us to be in a in a better spot once once shops do open up here. So that we’re, we’re handling it, we’re managing it responsibly.

00:14:33 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I agree. There’s a lot of learning that could be extracted from other communities. For going forward? We have a little bit of of movement on a local community rec Center. We know that a lot of communities around Grand Junction, there’s one up here in Gunnison and Frida and Machos and. What can you share on Grand Junction’s process for putting together a community rec center?

00:15:03 Ken Sherbenou
Yeah man, that’s a great question. So the City Council has referred a question to the ballot for April 4th. Sense it has been referred to the ballot. I really as staff member needs to need to be careful about how I handle that question that I think a lot of people want to know answers to. So what I’m telling folks since I can’t go into a lot of the detail on the plan is to refer folks to our website. We have a tremendous amount of information on the planning process on the Community Rec center at the city website. So if you go to gjcity.org and click on parks and rec, there’s a. Icon that’s specific for community Rec Center and what that does is that reflects all the planning process that has led to this ballot proposal on April 4th ballot. And so I would encourage folks to to check that out if they have questions. There is a citizens campaign that’s actively involved right now and it’s really their their role to help talk about the community Rec center. Yeah. But I appreciate you bringing up because I do think a lot of people want to know. And and we did our best to to represent what the plan is and put that plan on our.

00:16:20 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Website So I love.

00:16:22 Ken Sherbenou
That’s where our direct books.

00:16:23 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, perfect. We’ll include that link into our show notes so anybody listening can can find it pretty easily. And what are we excited about over the next few years? What do you see on the horizon? What’s what’s in development that you can share?

00:16:39 Ken Sherbenou
Cash, that’s a great question, Matt. So I think a lot of projects in the Parks and Recreation Open Space Master plan get me really excited. I think you know we have so much to be again proud of as a community with the existing trails and candy view and Lincoln Park that thankfully just got renovated. You know working with our partners with Grand Junction baseball, better known JUCO as well as CMU and the school District 51, that’s that was a wonderful thing in 2022 to be able to see these. Entities that serve the community and care so much about the community come together to enable that great renovation. So it’s seeing progress like that gets me excited. I think Grand Junction has so much potential to continue to improve and seize upon our natural assets. You know we’ve got the monument where the footsteps of the current National Monument and this amazing epicenter. We are for mountain biking and hiking and and the like and. I’m just really excited about the future because I think that we we do have a lot of opportunity to build off a lot of things that have been years in the making like the Riverfront Trail. I mean the Riverfront Trail was the original Goco legacy France. We’re talking now about how to how to bridge that scene and 1/2 Rd. gap which is one of the many projects in our Parks and Recreation and open Space master plan. So we’ve got those amazing facilities to to build off of and continue to improve. So it’s just. It’s really an honor to be working to serve in this community because I do think that the the next few years are going to be particularly exciting.

00:18:15 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That’s awesome. I love that. Where do you see businesses and community leaders working together for, you know, whether it’s overall parks, recreation or any nuance level of that? Are there collaboration? Zones that you see people can come together on.

00:18:37 Ken Sherbenou
Yeah, absolutely. So I you know I obviously worked real closely with our city manager, Great Caton and one of his big lines is Grand Junction is, is is big enough to have resources and have potential in terms of the partnerships and the like. But it’s small enough to be nimble or you can have relationships built with your other other partners whether they’re a public partners like CMU or the school district or the county or private partners like we’ve got. The dose Rios development that’s happening right now, that’s a public, private partnership where the city has has worked with. Wonderful leaders in the business community like Jen Taylor, who had a lot of the vision for dose Rios and she and the city have worked to bring out another private developer called May Riegler. And they’re a wonderful placemaking developer that had really focused on multi mixed-use developments and it’s wonderful to see their plans come to fruition and to continue to develop. The the public side and and the public park down at Dos Rios we have the new bike playground that’s down there now and we’ll be installing a destination level playground here in the next couple months down there at Dos Rios as well as a splash park and continue to do some riverfront improvements doing apply a Playa dose Rios dos Rios Beach. So it’s wonderful to see that collaboration happening in public private partnership with with endeavors like Dos Rios you know I think. I think that there’s just more opportunity just like that so that we’re we’re really a partner with the private sector and really supporting a lot of the things that are happening in Grand Junction from a number of different. Places from development from housing projects like. The Eddie has been such a great leverage that grew out of Las Colonias and all the improvement that happened down there with the original anchor going in being the the amphitheater and all the vision from the schraders from bonsai. The River Park and it’s just really cool to see progress like that and then see that progress but get more.

00:21:00 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Progress, yeah. I love that and I love the fact. I mean I think it’s spot on. You know it’s Grand Junction large enough to have resources and it is such a tight knit community which gives it this nimbleness and it’s such a it’s such a cool part of time in the in the city’s history for a lot of that and. As we all know, like change is the only constant. So we’re we’re in an influx of change and that can bring us own challenges along with opportunities.

00:21:30 Ken Sherbenou
Yeah. And that’s where it kind of I think some responsible planning is really important and some foresight. You know, I think we obviously worked real closely with the other city departments and our Community planning development as well as public works really have a lot of foresight on how to on how to manage growth responsibly and try and to encourage infill development and looking at our greatest needs when it comes to our Rd. system. And of course they have a lot of projects happening right now which. Of course, are a little painful in the short term when you’re going through construction, but man, after those new connections open up, it has a huge benefit.

00:22:09 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love that. And this has been a great conversation. How might people listening that want to get either involved or learn more about parks and rec and and the the resources that are available? How might people get in touch?

00:22:22 Ken Sherbenou
Yeah. So I’ll, I’ll just put a big quick plug in with our activity guide and this is our, this is the way that we, I think most effectively communicate with our community. It captures all the different programs and services that we have currently available. So there isn’t a thesis on talking about facilities that are always available like our developed parks are like our trails, like the work that our forestry division does with managing over 37,000 public trees in the parks in St. But it also has a lot of information on current program offerings. And of course, there’s a seasonality to the recreation side of the shop. And so programs do vary based upon the season and the activity guide reflects what those current opportunities are. So that’s really one of the best ways that people can understand what services are available to them and how they can take advantage of them. And there’s also specific contacts on whatever. Area of interest that folks want to get involved in whether it’s the arts and culture. We have an Archer Culture Commission that oversee a lot of the public art in our community that’s under Parks and REC. We have a variety of boards like our parks and REC Advisory Board who was centrally involved in in the planning on the on the pros plan and then the CRC plan. Subsequent to that we’ve got another number of different ways the folks can get involved on a volunteer basis. So I would just encourage folks, if they’re interested, to look at what they’re to look at the activity guide and find out who they need to speak with about how to get involved.

00:24:00 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Awesome. I love that. Well, I certainly appreciate your leadership, your management and a shout out to your team because I know it’s not a solo effort as we close. Is there any final parting thoughts that you’d like to share, like folks to know about?

00:24:18 Ken Sherbenou
Gash Mallow covered a lot. You know, I think, I think it’s just a genuine appreciation on the part of myself and and my team for being able to serve the community. I I really appreciate your, your mention of my team. I have a lot of staff that have been with our department for quite some time and they’ve gone through a lot of evolution. And it’s again, I think a wonderful time to be in parks and rec in Grand Junction. And I think that we have a lot of gratitude about the Community’s confidence and trusting us and trusting us to. To oversee and manage these major resources that are so important to our Community, like the stadium, like the amphitheater, like Canyon View. And so I think, I think that’s probably want to leave folks with is just that, that gratitude for entrusting us to to maintain the public resources that make a Grand Junction and an even better place to live, work and play.

00:25:16 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love that. And they certainly do add value on so many different levels, so.

00:25:23 Ken Sherbenou
About.

00:25:24 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Can’t state it any better. Ken, thank you so much for your time today. We’ll make sure to include in our show notes, you know, a link to Parks and Recreation website and. Yeah. Again, thank you for keeping the lands beautiful and available.

00:25:40 Ken Sherbenou
Absolutely, Matt. That’s her job. And thank you so much for your interest and your great questions. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.

00:25:46 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Awesome.

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