Written by Lori Boatfield
Photos by Steve Babin
In December of 2021, Mayor Tommy Battle appointed James Gossett as the City’s Director of Parks and Recreation. As he approaches nearly two years on the job, Huntsville EVENT Magazine was able to sit down with the director and shine the Spotlight on James Gossett.
Gossett, who replaced former Parks and Recreation Director Bernita Reese, was a familiar face within the department. The Huntsville native spent the previous eight years as a recreation superintendent and worked closely with the last three directors.
According to Gossett, his experience helped prepare him but there are some things you can learn only on the job. “I was fortunate that the last three directors provided me with some exposure to how the job interacted with other departments, the city administration, and the city council,” Gossett said. “So, I had some familiarity with that.”
While his immediate predecessor wasn’t on the job very long, there were things for Gossett to learn from and to continue their implementation. “Hopefully, you learn from everybody,” he pointed out. “Bernita brought in some good ideas that we wanted to maintain.” Gossett added, “One of the things she spent a lot of time on was reworking our mission, vision, and values statement. Those set the organization’s course.”
When asked about his time as director, Gossett immediately pointed to his staff and their impact on the citizens of Huntsville. “I work with great professionals,” he began. “I can’t stress this enough. Our staff is first class. They work hard at it every day. We are starting to see that work make a difference in the community and others see it, as well. For example, we just got a grant from the National Recreation and Park Association to help expand our mentoring program.”
The department’s impact on the city over the last few years can be seen in various ways. Plans are moving forward with a new 53,000-square-foot John Hunt Park Recreation Center that will be located on an 8.5 acre lot just north of the newly renovated Joe Davis Stadium.
A highlight of the new facility will be 16 outdoor pickle ball courts designed for competitive play and hosting tournaments. Gossett commented on his excitement for the new facility and pointed out that it’s not the only new recreation center coming to the city. “Anytime we have a new project, we get excited because of what it means to the communities that we’re going into,” said Gossett. “We’re getting ready to finalize a design contract for a new recreation center out west on Martin Road. That will be our first foray to the west, as facilities go.”
The city council has since approved plans for the new recreation center on Martin Road. The facility will be similar in design to the Mark Russell Recreation Center that opened in 2020 on Taylor Road. The city’s plans include two full-size gymnasiums, a fitness room, multi-purpose rooms, and office space, along with lighted parking and landscaping.
Gossett explained how the new facilities are just part of how the city is addressing a change in recreational needs. “There’s a lot of things that go into recreation now that maybe 20, 25 years ago people didn’t really think about,” he pointed out. “Recreation used to be about youth athletics,” he noted. “Now, it’s fitness, arts, aquatics, outdoor recreation and activities for all ages.” Gossett added, “In the last year or so, we’ve come a long way toward that. We talk a lot with our staff about programming and what we’re putting on the ground for the citizens of Huntsville. We’ve increased our offerings across the board.”
Because July is Parks and Recreation month nationally, Gossett was excited to tease all of the things the city has planned for Huntsville’s citizens; including Light up the Night, an event in Big Spring Park; along with a Back to School Bash in conjunction with Huntsville City Police Department to close out the month. Stay up to date on the schedule of events with the department’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/huntsvilleparksandrecreation.