Todd Johnson wasn’t sure what to expect when he became general manager of Wakamow Valley Authority (WVA) four years ago, but in that short time, he developed numerous relationships and helped the park grow.
“I don’t think I understood how big the park was (when I took the position). I knew it was big (at 500 acres), but I did not know it was as big and diverse as it is,” he said, noting there are four playgrounds, 20 kilometres of paths, 10 bridges, rentals, a campground, developed areas and natural areas.
“It’s a lot.”
Oct. 14 was Johnson’s last day as GM of the organization. He has joined the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s human resources/business partners department.
Johnson still wanted to join even after learning how vast Wakamow Valley is, he explained. He highlighted how the organization — with support from the City of Moose Jaw — added a disc golf course to the area, which is free and open all year round.
“That’s an exciting thing to be part of, that you think you know what’s going to happen once it opens, and then it exceeds usage immediately,” he said.
While the new course has a low impact on the environment, its main benefit has been to help reduce the vandalism — including fire and spray painting — in the Wellesley Park area because more participants walk that area.
“That is the biggest thing and our biggest fear, is that there’s a lot of space. And a lot of it is either trees or prairies, so being able to reduce areas where people might reduce fires is a good thing,” chuckled Johnson.
One thing he learned from staff is that WVA can only do so much with its seven employees. The small crew does its best daily to handle the 200 hectares, and patience is required while the work is completed.
“The workers here work extremely hard. And we’re just hoping that the people of Moose Jaw that use the park have realistic expectations of the crew we have,” he said. “Because really, for 500 acres, seven people is not that many people.”
The employees work every evening in the summer while covering each other’s days off and holidays, which is plenty of work for a small crew, Johnson added. He is proud of what they do, while he thinks the crew manager is exceptional at what he does.
One of Johnson’s favourite places is near the Fourth Avenue Southeast entrance. He can exit his car, walk down a hill, and immediately enter the prairies. His second favourite place is near Wellesley Park, which is covered with tall grass and trees and filled with rabbits and deer.
It will be the people Johnson misses the most, from the volunteers to the board of directors to participants of the farmers’ market to those who support the Valley of Lights. He thought it was those people who made the valley special.
Johnson emphasized that WVA works with city hall regularly. However, while the municipality contributes some of the organization’s budget annually, the authority must generate more than half its budget.
Donating to WVA is not something residents usually consider when deciding where to give, Johnson said. He heard many stories of people using the park during the pandemic as a place to find peace. He hoped they realized it takes money to operate such a massive venue.
It would be great if the province signed a funding agreement with WVA, especially if it values urban parks, Johnson added. Having community businesses come on board would also be positive; some partnerships exist, but more are always welcome.