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Mar 4, 2024

A Public Service Profile on Creating Beauty in Our Community

Sponsored Content provided by Chris Coudriet - County Manager, New Hanover County Government

When thinking about the work of county government, many will focus on the services and programs overseen by various departments that keep our community safe and healthy. These are obviously extremely important as our residents rely on them each day to meet the needs of themselves and their loved ones, and our dedicated staff takes great pride in this work. 

But here in New Hanover County, we are also proud to provide amenities that enhance the quality of life in our community, including numerous parks and gardens that offer outdoor recreation and picturesque scenes. 

Whether it’s the view from the Airlie Garden pergola or a chance to tackle the ninja course at Long Leaf Park, these green spaces give residents and visitors access to exercise outdoors and opportunities to enjoy what makes our county so special. From picnic shelters to concerts to everyone’s new favorite pastime, pickleball, our county-managed parks and gardens provide something for all. 

Keeping these facilities in order is no easy task. All told, our parks and gardens cover more than 1,000 acres. For Scott Childs, this is his focus each day. Scott has been with the county for almost 15 years, serving as Superintendent overseeing all of the county’s parks and gardens since 2019. 

For this month’s Public Service Profile, I spoke with Scott about his vision and passion for keeping our grounds beautiful and I even got to learn a little bit about his canine partner, Reilly.  That conversation is below… 

Scott, the weather is starting to warm-up and we’re seeing some signs of green as March officially begins. I know this is a busy time of year for you and your team. As we move into the spring, what’s your favorite part about seeing things start to come back into bloom? Anything those of us planning to venture outside should be on the lookout for?

Our team does a majority of our planting projects in the late fall through early spring as the warmer temperatures later in the year put more stress on the new plants. Spring is when you begin to see the results of all this work – it’s a delayed gratification but absolutely worth it. This includes trees and shrubs that will be long-term additions to the landscape, but also winter annuals and blooming bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. Right now, these bulbs are at peak bloom. As they fade, the azaleas will replace them with their colors signifying that spring has arrived.

In the spring, the blooms get all of the attention, but also notice the new young leaves as they have such nice colors and textures. As the season goes on, their colors tend to darken and they lose some of these “youthful” colors. Also, wildlife is in full action in the spring so keep an eye out for the animals, birds and insects.

I know you’ve been with the Parks and Gardens team for quite some time, starting off as the Grounds Supervisor over at Airlie all the way back in 2010. Where does your passion for this work come from and what’s the most exciting part about your role?  

I grew up on a small family homestead in New Hampshire where we grew our own vegetables and raised our own livestock. This was hard work and honestly landscaping was far from what I wanted to do when I grew up. But as often occurs, life sent me on a convoluted journey. I got an entry-level landscaping position at UNCW as it provided the opportunity to work full-time and complete my bachelor’s degree. I worked through the ranks, becoming a supervisor while also earning my degree. I grew to love designing landscapes in public venues, especially when installing trees was involved. When given the opportunity to work for New Hanover County supervising the grounds at Airlie Gardens, I jumped on it as it is one of the most beautiful places in the region. I have since become the Superintendent for Parks and Gardens where I can influence the landscapes throughout our park system. 

Related to these landscapes, I am most proud of the ongoing work we have been doing at Smith Creek Park. The park’s lake exists because the property was used as a sand mine during the construction of I-40.  When we received the property, it was basically a sandpit with some grass around it to stabilize the soil. We have added a 1.3-mile multi-use trail around the lake, but it was unshaded-hot and sunny in the summer and in the winter a cold wind whipped across the open space. We have been dedicatedly installing trees along this trail every year. There is so much open area to fill that this will be an ongoing project, but I look forward to walking down a forested trail in my retirement – many years from now.

You oversee such a variety of facilities, from the natural preserve at Airlie Gardens to the everyday use parks with trails and playing surfaces throughout the community. What’s the biggest challenge for you and your staff in maintaining so many different types of spaces? 

The greatest challenge, I would say, is meeting the needs and expectations of our rapidly growing and diverse citizen base.  We try to meet these needs as best we can, but often they conflict with those of others. Some people put a priority on keeping parks natural and passive, while others look for more athletic complexes – and don’t forget the growing need for pickleball courts! Having a diverse range of park facilities helps us meet this range of desires but at the same time creates questions from park patrons regarding why one park has certain features that another park doesn’t.  

Obviously, it takes a whole team of people to make this possible – but I want to learn a little bit about the non-human member of the Parks and Gardens staff. Reilly plays a big role in making sure the migratory birds don’t damage our facilities. Tell me about his role and what it’s like having him as a partner. 

Reilly has been a valuable member of our team as well as a loving member of my family. He has made a major impact on reducing damage to the grounds at Airlie Gardens as well as at other parks and county facilities. As a Border Collie, he is a natural herder and tries to herd the geese, so he is not chasing them or trying to hurt them, but the geese do not see it this way and fly away. This method is humane and is the preferred method by animal rights groups. He was a rescue and due to his strong herding instinct was not suited to being a traditional house pet. Working for the county for the past 11 years has given him a great life. The Airlie Gardens Foundation has graciously covered Reilly’s expenses so that while being a successful asset, he has not created any expense to the taxpayers as well.

I’m very thankful for the hard work Scott, his team and Reilly put in each day to keep our parks and gardens in order. We certainly love the facilities that are currently available, and soon we will add another for Scott and his team to oversee. 

On March 18, the county will officially cut the ribbon and open Hanover Pines Nature Park at 6101 Carolina Beach Road. This 42.5-acre passive park will add more natural space for everyone to enjoy here in New Hanover County. This will be another great addition to our greenspace portfolio. 

More information about all our parks and gardens is available at the Parks and Gardens department website

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