best city/county staffer

Ketchum Parks and Recreation Director Jen Smith takes a break next to the city's new splash park.
Photo by Roland Lane

'I'm blessed
to be here'

Ketchum Parks & Recreation director is passionate about the outdoors.
Amy Busek

Ketchum Parks and Recreation Director Jen Smith is not your typical administrator. An Oregon native, Smith started mowing lawns for the department when she moved to Ketchum in 2001.

"I also worked at the Sun Valley Athletic Club, which is no longer here, handing out towels," Smith said.

Perhaps if all managers worked from the ground up to get their position, they'd be as humble and centered as Smith.

Smith was voted best city or county staffer of the Wood River Valley for 2014. In an interview, she was good-natured about being soaked head-to-toe after a photo shoot at the Parks and Recreation Department's new splash park. Smith is at home around lakes, rivers and forests, and often escapes to them when she's done with what she calls her "work gig."

Being outside is preferred for the wilderness-loving Smith. She honed in on studying forestry while an undergraduate at Oregon State University, bouncing around between different forestry-related majors until she found her fit in the field of recreation resource management.

She moved to Ketchum to be near both her newborn niece and a good college buddy. Before moving to Idaho, Smith did a stint in New Mexico working at a disabilities advocacy agency. She became interested in adaptive sports in the late 1980s and was invited to Sun Valley to teach skiing to disabled people—which she did up until she got her current job.

She became the city's superintendent of parks and natural resources about a decade ago, when, according to Smith, "I stuck my hand in the air and began taking on more and more responsibility."

In 2010, Smith became the new parks and recreation director, a job she loves for its multifaceted nature. One day she'll be working with the Ketchum Arts Commission, another she'll be reviewing plans for a city-managed river park and the next she'll be fine-tuning Ketchum's urban forestry program.

While she says that the higher you climb on the bureaucratic ladder the less time you get outside, Smith's office has an unobstructed view of Bald Mountain and she's even learned to appreciate the administrative work. She's entertained the notion of online graduate school, but when asked where she saw herself in five years, Smith answered, "Right here."

"I floated the main Salmon [River] last week," Smith said. "When you reflect on what opportunities you have outside of work, again, I just have to go back to the fact that this is so ideal. I'm blessed to be here."

Smith was of course asked whether her department is anything like the hit television show "Parks and Recreation"—rest assured that comparisons between the series and real life are often made.

"I'm between Amy Poehler and Ron Swanson," Smith said with a laugh. "We look at the characters in the show and point out what character is who in our office."

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