Merced County Times Newspaper
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Parks & Rec. director sees opportunities in city’s rapid growth

Christopher Jensen is Merced’s new director of parks and recreaton.
Christopher Jensen is Merced’s new director of parks and recreaton.

Awesome future opportunities, steady growth and building partnerships with individuals and organizations encourage Merced’s new director of parks and recreation, Christopher Jensen.

Jensen began his new duties Jan. 18; he supervises three full-time employees with two more to be hired, 20 part-time staff members and a sprawling array of parks and recreation facilities throughout the city.

What do parks and recreation opportunities constitute for Jensen?

Parks are places for people to congregate, providing essential opportunities for them to socialize. It’s providing experiences that increase the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

“There are awesome opportunities offered us. Proposition 64 and the cannabis tax will give us a chance to leverage some innovative recreation programs and facilities that have not been offered in the past,” Jensen says.

Jensen, 40, says his goals align with city management and with the economic and physical growth of the community.

“I see a boom in development over the next few years. Merced is still one of the most affordable places to live and with UC Merced I see even more development,” Jensen says. Merced has a population of about 90,000 people at present.

Jensen also is encouraged with the engagement of local youth in community affairs. A number of community cleanup days at creeks and parks have been held and many of the workers are teenagers and 20-somethings, some of them students at UC Merced.

Accordingly, Jensen says he is looking for ways to get an increase in participation in recreation opportunities for Merced’s youth. He hopes to connect with the university’s community service coordinator to strengthen the ties between the city and the university.

The city of Merced has a six-member Youth Council with one vacant position waiting to be filled. He says youth are welcome to attend those council meetings and that is a great way for students to become engaged in youth activities.

Jensen points out about half of UC Merced’s student population live in the city and not in on-campus housing.

“We don’t want to overlook that population in our planning. We need to find innovative ways to engage youth with today’s modern technology. If we don’t engage young people through ‘apps’ we are missing the mark to reach an essential part of our population,” Jensen says.

The city’s recreation department has a number of programs geared for those 18 and under along with their families, which he hopes will expanded in the coming years.

Merced has 42 parks, the 42nd one in the works over the next couple years at Tyler and Mission avenues in South Merced, near the Campus Parkway area. Some of the parks are small neighborhood parks while others have more of a regional nature.

Applegate Park in central Merced is a mainstay of the community and continues to be a local treasure, according to Jensen. It includes the zoo, Kiddieland, the Merced Open Air Theater, a skate park, the gazebo, rose garden, Scout Hut and Laura’s Fountain, which has recently received donations to ensure its renovation.

Jensen also notes they have received the green light to develop the teal top outdoor roller rink, to be accessible to all types of wheeled devices, including wheelchairs.

The recreation department also is planning to host community events for musicians, artists and performers.

“We look forward to being able to partner with community organizations to expand our reach. Things are moving along here. I have been impressed with the recreation staff since Day One. I want to work with the staff to make sure we do it well. The biggest challenge with parks is maintaining the facilities we have. We hope to have opportunities for neighborhoods to adopt a park, just look out for it,” Jensen says.

Jensen is working on his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at National University, hoping to get a master’s in public administration degree.

Born in Fremont, Jensen has lived in Merced since 1992. His first job was in farm labor, picking apricots, peaches and grapes.

Subsequently he worked at retail positions in the Merced Mall and with the county’s Behavioral Health Department. There he started after-school recreation programs as a prevention program specialist. He was involved in Red Ribbon Week activities and a youth-to-youth conference.

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