Unalaska has a new Director of Parks, Culture, and Recreation (PCR).
Roger Blakeley took on the top job in early January, and now he oversees the city’s community center, aquatics center, and library.
Originally from Utah, Blakeley began his career as a park ranger in Eugene, Oregon. He patrolled the Willamette River Greenway in a jet boat, exploring far-flung corners of the state park and fishing along the way.
“One day, I brought home a steelhead and laid it on the table," said Blakeley. "The kids were there, and it was wonderful. Then my wife said, ‘Honey, I love you, but you’re not living up to your potential.’
"I said, ‘What? Look at this! This is a Norman Rockwell moment with the kids, the dog, and the fish.’ She said, ‘Why’d you go to school? Why’d you get a degree?’ I said, ‘Well, what would you like me to do?’ and she said, ‘See if there’s something out there you’d like to do.'"
So he did. Over the next three decades, Blakeley worked across the country.
In Arizona, he helped create the West Wetlands Park, an oasis in the middle of the Yuma desert. After that, he moved to Virginia, where he developed parks for the richest county in the country and lost his first wife.
Eventually, Blakeley ended up in Tennessee, running the parks department for Johnson City and getting remarried to his high school sweetheart.
“Then she turned to me four or five months ago and said, ‘We don’t have any kids at home anymore. Want to do something really crazy?'"
Looking for a new adventure, Blakeley and his wife considered moving to California, Wyoming, and the Florida Keys before settling on Unalaska.
“It’s not only met my expectations, it’s better," he said. "People are more friendly than I thought they’d be, and the whole experience here is like being in a National Geographic movie.”
Blakeley has spent the last few weeks getting to know his new home and his new job. He said he’s beginning to understand just how important PCR is to the island.
“This recreation center is the hub of all activity in this community," he said. "Not many people go to City Council meetings, but everybody comes here or to the library. We are the face of Unalaska. We are the health of this community. We are judged everyday by the citizens who pay taxes to make this happen, and we take that seriously.”
He already has plans to update the island’s playgrounds, make sure the department is staffed sufficiently, and create a long-term improvement plan for the library.
“The day that we have fiber optics and full streaming video on the island, some of the things that you see at the library today won’t exist. Because people will be doing them from home, similar to the lower 48," he said. "So we have to look at how we’re going to position ourselves in the future.”
Blakeley replaces D. Tyrell McGirt, who left in November after leading PCR for 10 years. Blakeley said he plans to stay on the island for the foreseeable future.