After more than 40 years of connecting people and nature, Outdoor Education Manager Bill McGowan will be retiring from JCPRD in late June.
“Bill’s leadership, creativity, and ingenuity will be sorely missed,” said Superintendent of Park Safety and Outdoor Education Terry Anderson. “The Ernie Miller Nature Center, TimberRidge Adventure Center, and Outdoor Education Programs are priceless gems for the district and the county as a whole and have been built up from their humble beginnings to what they are today, all attributable to his efforts. Countless lives have been enriched as a direct result from Bill’s work, dedication, and passion.”
McGowan was one of four young park police officers (then called rangers) hired by JCPRD in January of 1980 as part of a new concept where individuals with natural science backgrounds were hired and officers split their time between law enforcement duties and presenting outdoor education programs. All four of those officers went on to leadership positions within JCPRD ranging from superintendent of parks, director of community education, superintendent of park safety and interpretation, and, in McGowan’s case, interpretive supervisor. McGowan, whose most recent title is outdoor education manager, is the last of the four to retire.
McGowan said he is proud to have helped lead the change that created the foundation for the successful evolution of JCPRD’s current Safety and Outdoor Education Division.
“I anticipated working for the district for a couple of years before continuing my career with the National Park Service,” McGowan said. “Never did I envision that I would have the opportunity to share my passion for nature and the outdoors in my hometown for my entire career.”
A Johnson County native, McGowan holds a bachelor of science degree in natural resource management from Kansas State University. Prior to coming to JCPRD, he worked seasonally for the Kansas Park Authority at Cheney Reservoir and as a park ranger with the National Park Service at the Buffalo River National Recreation Area in Arkansas.
Within nine months of being hired, he applied for a was offered the new outdoor recreation interpretive coordinator’s position with just a handful of programs and no facility. He initially worked out of an office in the basement of the former Tomahawk Recreation Complex, and still later in the Shawnee Mission Park Visitors Center. The Ernie Miller Nature Center in Olathe opened in 1985, and a second phase completed in 1991 finally gave him office space there.
During all of this time, he was developing and expanding the outdoor education programs, including more than 25 he created himself, as well as participating in the planning of the Ernie Miller Nature Center and three expansion phases, as well as the TimberRidge Adventure Center, which opened adjacent to Kill Creek Park in 2002.
“I am proud of our programs and the positive impact they have had on our community,” McGowan said. “It is heartwarming when adults smile when I tell them where I work and share their childhood memories of a programs, camp, and/or special events. For many years when asked where I worked, many people had no knowledge of Ernie Miller Park/Nature Center. Today, most people know of the park/programs if not by personal experience by their children attending a school field trip or other programs. Some day in the near future TimberRidge Adventure Center will also have that same name recognition and reputation.”
McGowan said the most satisfying part of these efforts for him was “creating opportunities for the public to connect with nature and create lifelong memories. Also working with extremely dedicated, creative and passionate staff and volunteers. I have had the fortune to work with some of the most talented professionals in the business. My accomplishments here would not have been possible without agency support throughout my career and the team effort of many. I also enjoyed working with community partners such as the Possum Trot Orienteering Club, Olathe Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Johnson County Sailing Society, scouts, schools, and many others.”
In 2015, McGowan received the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) Master Interpretive Manager Award, which was presented at NAI’s national workshop. This award is presented to an NAI member who has worked for a minimum of five years in the profession and whose current duties are at least 60 percent supervisory or administrative. Recipients demonstrate a mastery of interpretive techniques, site and staff management, and a respected ability to pass these skills to others.
Among his many other honors, he received the NAI Region 6 Fellow / Lifetime Achievement and Distinguished Professional Interpreter awards in 2012 and 1995, respectively; was recognized as JCPRD Employee of the Year in 2005 and 1995; and in 1988 the Kansas Wildlife Federation named him Conservation Educator of the Year. He has also been recognized by the Olathe Chamber of Commerce in appreciation for his service to the Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Council, and by the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education in recognition of outstanding service and dedication.
As to his retirement plans, McGowan says he looks forward to enjoying more time with family and friends, as well as travelling, hiking, and visiting national and state parks.