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Many things distinguish this area from others in West Virginia and the three-state region. One of the most visible and popular is its park system.

The 14 park sites in Cabell and Wayne counties operated by the Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District are unparalleled in their diversity and their appeal. From April Dawn Park in Milton to Harveytown Park in Huntington’s West End, the district has small neighborhood parks. It has the All-Inclusive Playground at St. Cloud Commons, the first in the region designed for children of all abilities. It has larger operations such as Camp Mad Anthony Wayne in Wayne County and Heritage Station in downtown Huntington.

And there are the district’s two standout parks: Harris Riverfront Park and Ritter Park. Few communities can boast of the number and quality of public spaces that this area has.

Much of the park system that people enjoy today was developed under the leadership of two executive directors. Jim McClelland oversaw the system for 31 years until his retirement in late 2010. He was followed by Kevin Brady, who retired in January 2020.

Now the district has a new executive director. Kathy McKenna had been the interim executive director until the district’s board removed the interim title recently.

McKenna already has plans for what needs to be done. For now, the focus is on continuing maintenance at district facilities.

“We have some areas that need some attention, and we’ve been slowly pecking away at that,” McKenna told The Herald-Dispatch reporter McKenna Horsley. She said the park district is working to put plastic lumber on benches at Ritter Park before moving to do similar work at Memorial Park. Repairing stonework throughout Ritter is also on her list. Pickleball courts were recently installed at Ritter, she added. McKenna said the district is also looking to secure grants for a new shelter and play structure at McClelland Park in Huntington’s Highlawn neighborhood.

McKenna is a long-time employee of the park district. She started as a part-time employee 28 years ago. After graduating from Marshall University in 1993 with a degree in finance, McKenna joined the park district full-time. Several of her roles involved finance, including serving as finance director for the district. When Brady left, McKenna was the park district’s assistant executive director.

Thus, she’s seen firsthand how improvements and expansions were planned and accomplished, and she knows what the park system means to this area.

Everyone who uses the district’s parks and its programs undoubtedly wishes McKenna the best as she builds on the system left by her predecessors. Her success will be the park district’s success, but more important it will be the community’s success.

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