Alaska recreation conference will arrive in Wrangell next month

Wrangell will host the annual Alaska Recreation & Parks Association conference Sept. 19-22 for the first of two consecutive years. The conference will bring over 40 recreation professionals to town from around Alaska and the United States to swap ideas, build their skillsets and make connections among parks and recreation departments.

The conference’s workshops will be geared toward industry insiders, not community members at large, but Economic Development Director Kate Thomas hopes that the conference will give Wrangell “an opportunity to shine.”

Hosting the Alaska Recreation & Parks Association is a test run to “see how we might facilitate other conferences or other professional retreats in the future,” she said. “In my new role as the economic development director, it’s about, ‘where is that threshold and how can we reach that full capacity’” of visitors, without overstraining the community’s resources.

“It’s really important for Wrangell to have a seat at the table,” she added, “and if the seat is not offered, bring a chair. Most of the time, people aren’t going to reach out to you — you have to put yourself out there. There are a lot of qualified and capable people working in our community who have a lot to offer.”

One event, however, will be open to members of the public — the esports tournament. During the competition, which will take place Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Nolan Center, participants will flex their Super Smash Bros. skills and face off against their friends. The tournament format was designed by keynote speaker Scott Novis of video party operator GameTruck to maximize the amount of time that each participant gets to play.

Thomas believes in the importance of meeting youth where they’re at, whether that’s the field, the court or the gaming console. “How do you get kids out of their houses … for that camaraderie and relationship-building?” she asked in a previous interview. “It’s much healthier for kids to be in a community space … than isolating themselves at home.”

The borough is currently seeking a “shoutcaster” to emcee the tournament — “a charismatic individual who understands that game and the sport who is going to call the game,” explained Thomas. “A sports announcer, basically.” The borough had already received three applications last week and plans to make its decision this week.

However, aside from the esports event, “recreation isn’t all fun and games,” said Thomas. To work in the industry, professionals need to be skilled in public relations, risk management, budgeting, municipal parliamentary procedures and more.

Registered conference attendees will take their pick of educational workshops on Sept. 20 and 21, which will cover topics as wide ranging as chainsaw training, governmental accounting, intergenerational recreation and public meetings law.

“This conference is open to all levels of hierarchy within the industry,” explained Thomas, who is board secretary of the association and suggested that the conference come to Wrangell. She sought to design “a list of topics that are engaging and relevant, but also span all interests.” Each time block will have two to three workshop opportunities, so people can pick which sessions are the most relevant to their professional goals. “There is something for everybody,” she said.

On Sept. 22, Mike Walsh of the Anchorage-based Foraker Group, which assists nonprofits statewide, will hold a leadership training for board members that will be geared more toward members of the Wrangell community, particularly people sitting on nonprofit boards or commissions in town.

The conference will be free for students; adults must register at to attend all events except for the esports tournament. The registration fee is $349 for non-parks association members.


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