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Jeff Jackel pedals through final week as rec director

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By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

For nearly 16 years, Jeff Jackel has been the figure most closely identified with recreational programs run by the Town of Carbondale, but that is about to come to an end.
Jackel, 65, is retiring from his $95,000 post as director of the town’s recreation department as of Feb. 3, having overseen projects valued at more than $6.6 million, paid for by a carefully managed combination of local taxpayer funds and grants from a variety of regional and state agencies and entities.
He told The Sopris Sun not too long after his retirement party (which is scheduled for 4 p.m. this afternoon (Feb. 3) at Town Hall), he plans to travel to the Hawaiian islands for an extended visit (his first, he said). After that, he will return to the continental U.S. to hit the road in an RV he purchased about a year ago, and has been storing in California, before coming back to settle back into Carbondale.
The town has hired Eric Brendlinger, formerly the manager of the Carbondale Community and Recreation Center (CCRC) to take over as head of the newly merged recreation and parks departments, at a salary of $92,000, according to Town Manager Jay Harrington.
Harrington explained that Brendlinger’s salary is higher than it formerly might have been because of the “greater workload and greater responsibility” of overseeing what used to be two departments (the parks department formerly was under the public works director’s purview.)
That now means that parks and recreation are under one administrative roof, and public works is in charge of streets, the town fleet and the town’s urban forester, which Harrington said “is a little bit more of a traditional structure for a municipality.”

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Arrived in 2001
Jackel already had considerable experience in parks and recreation programming in other towns when he was hired by Carbondale in 2001, having already worked in six other communities starting in 1975.
“I’ve never, ever come into a community that was so pro-recreation, and making things happen in that area,” Jackel recalled, explaining that right out of the gate he was overseeing a feasibility study concerning construction of the CRCC, which originally was planned for North Face Park but ultimately was placed next to Town Hall due to citizen input.
The CRCC, which cost about $4.2 million (including the Promenade Park space behind the center), “was the first project I dived into,” Jackel said.
But even as he worked with an engaged citizenry to get the recreation center project going, Jackel also was working on a master plan for development of the Delaney Nature Park property the town had recently acquired; tennis courts and baseball-field lighting at the North Face complex; erecting a new maintenance shed and a new water well at the Gus Darien Riding Arena, which the town also had recently acquired; and putting up a picnic shelter at the Triangle Park in the River Valley Ranch subdivision.
And that was just in 2003.
Every year since then, Jackel has overseen one or more projects, ranging from 10 projects in 2004, at a cost of $492,000, to the sole effort in 2007 — $40,000 to purchase bleachers for the Darien Arena.
In most years, though, Jackel was involved with three projects for the year, mostly costing a total of $100,000 to $300,000 or a bit more.
“It was a different climate back then,” he said of the early 2000s, recalling that the town and the valley were in the middle of a construction boom and “we were really seeing a lot of money coming in,” to the point where the town’s recreation fund (fed by a half-cent sales tax) had swelled to some $2.5 million by 2001.
In addition to spending town funds, Jackel was adept at going after grants from Garfield County’s Federal Mineral Lease District fund; the state’s Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) fund; and other agencies.
“That was my forte,” he noted. “I really enjoyed writing grants (applications) and getting funding.”
Plus, he said, he enjoyed considerable support from the public, the town’s trustees and other departments in Town Hall.
“It was remarkable people within the community that came to me to discuss their visions for pursuing a recreation center; renovating and lighting the Gus Darien Rodeo Arena; developing a dog park and a nature park; acquiring the Gateway RV Campground and Boat Ramp; constructing new tennis courts and an all-weather synthetic running track for the high school; building a skateboard park, bike park, Demeter Community Garden; building the bread oven shelter (in Bonnie Fisher Park)” and a lot more, Jackel wrote in his last Director’s Message that went out with the spring recreation brochure.
“It made my job so much easier,” Jackel continued, “when the citizens had so much passion for recreation.”
Things slowed a bit when the national economy went into a severe slump in 2008-09, and Carbondale was hit by a decline in tax and other revenues that lasted for several years.
“Since the recession hit, the town has been going after smaller grants to pay for smaller projects,” in part because the big GOCO grants typically come with a requirement for matching amounts that Carbondale currently cannot afford.

‘A great career’

Jackel said that of all the towns he’s worked in, Carbondale tops the list.
“Every parks and rec commission since 2001, I enjoyed working with them,” he said, adding that he also has had a good working relationship with the town board of trustees and administrative staff.
“It’s been a great career, 42 years in government,” he continued. “It’s hard to believe it’s coming to an end.”
In his farewell note, he expressed the hope that Carbondale will “continue to pursue and build for the future important recreational needs of the community,” as laid out in the 2015 Parks, Recreation & Trails Master Plan, another achievement that gives him pride.
“There are still great opportunities and important things ahead that the Town of Carbondale has plans to achieve for you,” Jackel concluded.

Published in The Sopris Sun on Feb. 2, 2017. 

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