Northern Virginia is home to thousands of acres of recreational parks and walking trails. Although we might take a walk in the park for granted, there are still many dedicated individuals who keep those parks welcoming and safe for Northern Virginia residents and visitors to enjoy.
One of those individuals is Kevin Casalenuovo, the park manager of Pohick Bay Regional Park in Lorton. Casalenuovo oversees nearly 1,000 acres of parkland, with features ranging from mini golf to an 18-hole championship golf course, and everything in between.
We caught up with him to find out just how these last few months have looked different in the midst of a global pandemic, and what he’s looking forward to most about spending another summer in the park. Highlights from our conversation below.
How and when did you get started working in parks and recreation?
I have always enjoyed the outdoors as a child and when I heard in high school that a degree in outdoor recreation management was a possible degree, I knew I found my path. I graduated from Lock Haven University in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science. My first paid job in the field was as a park ranger for a private Civil War park called Pamplin Park in southern Virginia. This position was short-lived, as it was just not the right fit, and I then accepted a position with NOVA Parks, where I have now had a 13-year career thus far. I have managed everything from a 45-mile rails-to-trails park to waterparks, marinas, golf courses, trails, shelters, mini golf and more.
What do your responsibilities consist of as the park manager at Lorton’s Pohick Bay Regional Park?
Pohick Bay is one of the largest parks in Northern Virginia with nearly 1,000 acres of park land. I oversee an 18-hole championship golf course, a 150-site family campground (tents, RVs and cabin rentals), a large youth group camping facility, a boat launch area, mini golf, disc golf, various park shelters and an extensive network of trails.
With the help of some really dedicated and talented team members, we will analyze everything from profitability to maintenance of the park, and just about everything in between. We have a customer service mantra of “Safety, Courtesy and Responsiveness.” When looking at these facilities, I am looking at them through this lens. As a park manager, I am constantly trying to figure out a way to get the best out of my staff in order to benefit the public, as well as the amazing natural resource we have that is the Pohick Bay.
Before the global pandemic, what did a “typical’ workday look like for you?
A typical day at Pohick Bay is a hard one to describe because every single day is different. A “normal” Monday can change quickly if a waterline breaks or a tree falls down. Factors such as weather also correlate with how busy or slow the park is. I usually work the weekends, as I understand in the service industry we must work in order to allow others to enjoy their weekends.
Typically, I would say the week is when we get to plan for the influx of customers on the weekends. The weeks are still busy, but just in more of an administrative way, as I work with team members to set the plan and expectations as we move forward. On the weekends, we get to see how much of that planning has paid off as we welcome guests from all over Virginia and the country. On the weekends we try to find that balance between customer service and safety.
I think it may come as a surprise to some that what we are really doing in parks is running multiple businesses. NOVA Parks generates a lot of its own revenue, so I must always look for ways to increase and sustain profitability.
Now that we are in the era of COVID-19 and it seems everything, even with parks and recreation, is changing every day, what does a workday look like for you, and how have your responsibilities changed over the past few months?
During the initial “lockdown,” I was lucky enough to be deemed essential and the park never completely closed down. We were challenged as some staff members were furloughed and the park still needed to be maintained. This is when I got to see true teamwork, as everyone helped each other out to fill the large voids left by furloughing and reducing staffing. It would not be uncommon to see me out cutting dead trees in the park or on a lawn mower assisting with the maintenance team. My responsibilities are always the same—run a safe, profitable park—but the way we get there has changed a bit.
We installed signage everywhere to remind folks about social distancing, as well as installed plexiglass near point-of-sale locations. The major thing is understanding people and that everyone has a different level of comfortability when it comes to this virus.
What should visitors know about coming to Pohick Bay Regional Park this summer?
If you are coming to Pohick Bay or any of your favorite parks, I would just say know before you go. What stage Virginia is in will affect what Pohick Bay has open for the public. The key is to check the Facebook page, check the webpage and ask questions. You don’t want to go out to Pohick or your favorite park and not be able to use a restroom. The other piece of advice I would say is to be patient with us. Like you, we are all trying to figure this “new normal” out, many times with a reduced staff.
What are your hopes for the park this summer?
My hopes are really the same as any other year as it relates to people enjoying themselves in a safe manner. The waterpark at Pohick Bay will not open this year, but customers have already found other new ways to get out and enjoy Pohick Bay. I am seeing a record number of kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders and boaters. The weekends here at Pohick Bay have looked like holiday weekends as people seek to social distance in nature.
Are there any safety requirements during this time that visitors should be aware of?
In terms of safety, it’s the basics of washing your hands and social distancing. Keep up with the guidelines provided by the CDC and the local health department. Following our website and social media will also help as things are changing rapidly as Virginia moves to open certain features and relax restrictions. We are lucky to be in a business that, in many ways, promotes social distancing.
What’s the best thing about spending a day at Pohick Bay Regional Park, and what would you recommend for a first-time guest?
To me, it’s in the name. Pohick Bay’s main attraction is the beautiful waterfront of Pohick Bay. Grab a campsite or cabin and get out on the water with your kayak and enjoy peace and tranquility while immersed with wildlife. The Mason Neck Area is a really special place in terms of wildlife. I see a bald eagle here at the park almost every single day! Water is not your thing? Put your hiking boots on and find a trail that will take you on a journey to find a nice lookout of the marsh.
Is there anything else you would want park visitors and readers to know?
The area of Northern Virginia is a busy area, as we are a suburb of the District of Columbia. I think everyone needs to understand that on weekends, the park is busy, and remember to have patience. And if you really want to find that quiet time or a more relaxed recreation atmosphere, consider a visit during the week. To me, a weekend visit and a mid-week visit can be a completely different experience. In the era of COVID-19, during the week may make some folks feel a bit more comfortable. Again, understanding your comfortability level will help to determine when to visit the park.
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