Payson’s first-ever town coordinator for Trails and Outdoor Recreation is hanging up her hiking boots and backpack.
In stepping down, Mary McMullen said, “I loved working for the (parks and recreation) department, but with (husband) Craig (working) down in the Valley all week, I need to be around and more available for the kids. They will be out of the house before we know it.”
The McMullens have two sons — Nick is a freshman at Payson High School and Nate is a sixth-grader at Rim Country Middle School.
Mary McMullen’s last day of work for the town will be Oct. 4, but that doesn’t mean she won’t remain busy.
“I will be doing part-time consulting in my original field of training (nutrition),” she said.
McMullen has been with the town since June of 2006 when she was hired as a recreation coordinator. In October of 2007, she was reassigned as the first Trails and Outdoor Recreation coordinator with the challenge of building the program from scratch.
Her efforts in that capacity are lauded from one who worked hand in hand with her — former recreation coordinator Joseph Harris.
“Mary is fantastic with outdoor recreation — both starting new programs as well as reviving old ones,” Harris said. “I am amazed at all that Mary did in Payson; she can make civic outdoor recreation happen with pennies.”
Among McMullen’s first tasks as outdoor recreation coordinator was one she now calls the most unforgettable — jump starting the Payson Area Trails System (PATS).
“Definitely, PATS is the most significant and memorable in my mind,” she said. “That was a huge and immensely rewarding project.”
Although McMullen admits she has concerns the slowed economy will adversely affect the unfinished project, she harbors no doubts PATS “will continue to be supported by our town, construction will eventually finish and Payson residents will reap the benefits of an interconnecting trails system for generations.”
Among those who would like to copy McMullen’s trails blueprint is Harris, now a recreation coordinator in Los Alamos, N.M.
“I hope to be able to pick her brain in the future on how to develop a system here in Los Alamos,” he said.
While organizing PATS was a big part of McMullen’s job, there were plenty of other programs she played a role in developing and hosting.
“All were exciting and memorable because they were something new to our department that Payson is perfectly suited to host, such as youth archery, Dutch oven cooking, guided hikes, fly fishing, outdoor photography and more.”
Most who have taken advantage of the outdoor programs credit McMullen for their success. She, however, modestly deflects the plaudits.
During McMullen’s tenure with the town, the P&R department suffered mightily in 2009 after the council imposed cuts that left parks and recreation operating on a shoestring budget and without a director who was let go as part of the belt tightening.
“Our part-time staff was cut to almost nothing, and the funds were no longer there to do major projects such and parks repairs and improvements, installation of lights on the Kiwanis fields at Rumsey Park and construction of our first major in-town section of PATS,” said McMullen.
The challenge of the budget cuts was for the five remaining staff members to continue to provide the programs and services that the public was accustomed to having.
“Our staff hung in there and we now see better economic times around the corner,” said McMullen. “I believe we were able to provide virtually all the programs the public was used to having, despite the economic challenges.”
In 2009, McMullen went so far as to pen a letter to the editor of the Roundup that she entitled “Volunteering for Payson Parks and Recreation? Give it a try.”
In it, she urged residents to get involved in helping solve the financial crisis by volunteering for the town’s many programs.
Also during McMullen’s time with the town, she was donned with one of the greatest rewards a former prep athlete can receive.
In May 2008, she was inducted into the Paradise, Calif. High School Bobcat Hall of Fame for her basketball exploits that included being the school’s all-time leading scorer.
She also starred in track and field at her high school and in 1988 accepted a scholarship to the University of Washington where she once finished second in the Pac-10 high jump competition.
She continues to hold the Paradise school record in the event with a leap of 5-feet, 10-1/2 inches.
Although it’s a given McMullen will soon ride off into the sunset much like an iconic wandering cowboy in old time western movies, she plans on continuing to contribute to the P&R cause.
“I’m looking forward to being involved as a Payson resident and volunteer,” she promises.