Tri-Valley parks Director Ayn Wieskamp has announced her upcoming retirement from the East Bay Regional Park District after more than 20 years representing Ward 5, which includes Pleasanton, Livermore, Sunol and southern Dublin.
The decision, along with the retirement of longtime Ward 6 Director Beverly Lane, means that both Tri-Valley seats in the district will be fully up for grabs in November's general election.
Wieskamp, who lives in Livermore, noted that she'd "been in the parks game a long time," having previously served on the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District and Livermore City Council.
"One of the good things about being on the City Council is the two agencies did a lot together," Wieskamp said.
Among these were collaborations on Fourth of July celebrations, Fitness Days and other family-oriented events in the city. "We did a lot of events like that, bringing the two agencies together, because they belong together in a lot of ways," Wieskamp said.
Wieskamp's interest in parks and recreation ultimately led to her longtime career as an elected director with EBRPD, starting in 1999. Her retirement at the end of the year will mark a more than 23-year tenure in the position.
While being subject to public scrutiny and criticism, as well as contentious debates with colleagues, are often part of the job for elected officials, Wieskamp said that her fellow directors, staff and constituents in the district all shared an overarching mission of wanting to see the parks district thrive, and recognizing the importance of local parks.
"Most of the time, most of the people appreciate and enjoy you when you're on the board of directors of the East Bay Regional Park District because they enjoy the parks," Wieskamp said.
This appreciation has been amplified in recent years leading up to Wieskamp's announcement that she will retire at the end of her term this year, and won't seek re-election in November. During the past two years, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wieskamp said that demand for the district's parks has been higher than ever, with residents suddenly eager to interact with nature, and sometimes make their first-ever visits to parks in the district.
"It's amazing how many people had never been to our parks before," Wieskamp said.
While Wieskamp said she was proud of the projects and improvements she'd been able to spur in Ward 5 parks, she had come to learn that these often took longer than anticipated. In addition, increasing drought and other environmental threats in the region and nation have been tangible in the local parks in her ward, she noted.
One example is a pavilion and exhibits at Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area, in which drought conditions and low water levels have forced the closure of the once-popular swimming area in Pleasanton. While the park is still open for other activities, Wieskamp said that adding the pavilion and exhibits, as well as getting recycled water to maintain some landscaping in dry conditions, have been important ways of softening the blow.
"I'm so glad, because I get so depressed every time I drive by," Wieskamp said. "The water is so low and it's just so sad when you're used to seeing people really enjoy that park in the hot weather."
However, Wieskamp noted that the scope of environmental troubles facing the Tri-Valley are beyond what the parks district can contend with via landscaping choices.
"The big issue I think for all of us is that a third of the nation is drowning and the rest of us are just totally dry," Wieskamp said. "That's the big issue as a state and as individuals we're all going to have to look at and figure out what we have to do."
For individuals contending with drought conditions and high temperatures, Wieskamp emphasized the importance of hydration and taking measures to avoid heatstroke, particularly for dogs, who have been the subjects of increasingly high rates of heat-related illnesses and deaths.
While Wieskamp, along with Lane, will be replaced with new directors following November's election, Wieskamp said that she was confident they had laid a strong foundation for their successors. She also noted that she would be watching the outcomes of their work.
"I'll stay interested, I guarantee you that," Wieskamp said. "And the great thing about being formers is we are usually invited to go on the tours where they're doing new parks and so on."
"Once you're a park person, I think you stay a park person," she added.