D. Tyrell McGirt, director of Asheville Parks & Recreation, says he didn’t initially plan for the career he now has. One summer, while a teenager in Greensboro, his mother asked him if he was interested in being a lifeguard. Before he could respond, she told him she’d already signed him up for the position — his first with a parks and recreation department.
After earning a degree in business from N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University, he spent a little over a year “in [the] corporate [world] and figured out real quickly that it didn’t work for me,” he says.
Leaving his job, McGirt joined the YWCA Central Carolinas in December 2000, working as an aquatics coordinator for its health and wellness center. “I thought I would do [that] until I figured out what I wanted to do as an adult,” he says.
Several year later, he was still with the department when it struck him: He enjoyed what he was doing. Why not make it his career? “That’s when I started digging deeper into the industry and really started getting into everything it has to offer.”
Since that time, McGirt has worked across the country, including stints in Alabama and Arizona. In January 2022, he joined the Asheville Parks & Recreation Department. Xpress checked in with him about the city’s offerings and ways for residents to stay active in 2024.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Xpress: When you came here two years ago, what was one thing you saw that could make an immediate difference in Asheville?
McGirt: What I saw was a very comprehensive system that for a city our size has a lot of resources. We have 10 community centers, [as well as] both paved and natural-surface trails. We have 65 parks. We have some extra bonuses like a skatepark, river access, lawn bowling and disc golf [courses]. Nothing jumped out to me as, “Oh, Asheville needs this.”
Looking at the data, what activities could attract more people to the services your department offers?
Certainly there are things we could be doing to offer more young-adult activities and teen activities. We recognize that’s an area of opportunity for us. I think an area where we shine is being able to offer no-cost or low-cost programming at our community centers so families can do things with their young ones as well as after-school programs.
How do you measure your department’s success?
Well, citizens are pretty vocal here in Asheville. They don’t mind letting us know if we missed the mark on something. We have a “say yes” philosophy in the department. So we figure out which ways we can get to yes, and that’s not always easy.
Is funding a challenge?
Funding is a challenge wherever you are. There’s always going to be needs that are out of reach. We have to look at the system globally and not get into rabbit holes of what’s needed in this particular area and how that fits into the city as a whole.
What is your department’s biggest opportunity?
We’re in the middle of a comprehensive plan, so I’m curious to know exactly what that data shows and see what that data tells us is the biggest opportunity. Our focus is maintaining and increasing our service levels at all of our amenities.
As a Black man in parks and recreation, do you consider yourself a mentor?
Absolutely. I enjoy working for a city where equity is not only valued but it’s an expectation. We do well in the Parks and Rec Department of having a workforce that’s reflective of the Asheville community. [For the young Black men in the department], I try to make them more aware of the opportunities that the industry has to offer them. That’s a passion of mine. It’s something I wish I had coming up. I feel like I would be five years further ahead if I had had it.
How can the department help people seeking a healthier lifestyle in 2024?
Asheville residents have access to safe spaces within the city’s system that can help facilitate their commitment to health resolutions. We have two fitness centers, at Shiloh and Stephens-Lee community centers. We have four indoor gymnasiums that are available for residents to use for pickup basketball, volleyball, pickleball and other activities. We have 10 miles of paved greenway. We have sport activities for youth and adults — senior games, softball, sand volleyball, flag football and tennis. And we have a host of fitness classes — Zumba, Power Hour exercise, line dancing and yoga — at different center locations.
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