New Metroparks director understands city/parks dynamicWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Stephen Madewell, who takes over as executive director of the Metroparks of Toledo Area on April 2, learned to value nature as a child.
He recalled his father’s reaction to the debut of nonreturnable pop bottles. “I remember my dad looking at one and saying ‘This makes absolutely no sense.’”
Madewell, currently director of Lake Metroparks near Cleveland, also remembered his father pointing out spaces where he used to hunt that had been converted into shopping centers. “These things all factored into my upbringing, leading me to this career,” he said. “They instilled a sense of conserving open spaces at a very early age.”
Madewell, 56, was one of five finalists for the position overseeing 11,000 acres of park space in Lucas County. Waverly Partners, an executive search firm, began looking for a new executive director after former director Don Rettig Jr. took a job at Owens Corning in June.
Since then, Cathy Marinelli has served as interim director. Marinelli, who is also the director of human resources and volunteer services, did not apply for the executive director position, said Scott Carpenter, public relations director for Metroparks.
Madewell and the other finalists were interviewed by the Board of Park Commissioners, made up of President Scott Savage, Lera Doneghy and Fritz Byers. The board voted unanimously to place Madewell in the $130,000 a year position.
“[Madewell] was a clear choice and what stood out were a couple things. One, his understanding of our mission and history of preservation,” Savage said. “Secondly, the breadth and depth of experience he had throughout his career.”
Madewell, who grew up north of Dayton, received his degree from Miami University. During his freshman year of college he decided to work in environmental education after “life-altering experience” while working at a private nature center. It was Madewell’s job to care for the children of migrant workers at the nature center, many of whom spoke Spanish.
“I found myself finding ways to communicate the value and the importance of the nature center,” he said. After college, Madewell worked as a naturalist aide at the Greene County Recreation and Parks Department. He worked his way up as a park ranger, naturalist and environmental interpretation and resource protection manager.
Madewell went on to serve as director at Geauga Park District before becoming Lake Metroparks’ head of resource interpretation and protection from 1988-1990. He was deputy director at Lake Metroparks from 1991-2009 and then director after spending a year as interim director. During his time at Lake Metroparks, the district doubled in size, largely from grants and outside sources.
Although Madewell has worked with several Ohio park districts, this is his first with an urban core.
“There’s a dynamic that occurs between the city center and the outlying area, and I’ve always been in a park system in one of the outlying areas,” he said. Lucas County’s system also has 3,000 more acres than Lake County.
“This is the fourth park district in Ohio I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I’m fairly familiar with park district law in Ohio. There are some similarities, but they’re all just a little uniquely different,” he said.
Madewell, who is married with three adult children, enjoys songwriting in his spare time. He has released two CDs and often writes about natural resources.
He also uses his free time to get in touch with nature when he beekeeps. “I don’t make [honey], but I steal it from them. I enjoy interacting and interfacing with nature like that.”
Madewell said he is excited about the move to Lucas Country and plans to focus on learning about the area.
“I certainly am looking forward to getting to know the ins and outs of the park system and the strengths of the staff and the philosophy behind the system and organization,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to understanding how the park system interfaces with the community as a whole.”
“He’s going to come in, listen and ask a lot of questions. There are no big plans in the works; I think he wants to come and understand,” Savage said.