Two of Derby’s biggest events, the BBQ fest and fireworks show, both took place just weeks apart this year with great success. But if it weren’t for the efforts of Senior Groundskeeper Chris Swindler, those events may well not have happened.
Swindler is in charge of maintaining and preparing High Park, including for major events. He also oversees the city’s chip site and performs groundskeeping at other spots around town.
The Belle Plaine resident started working voluntarily with the parks department at just 16 years old, as part of a program at Derby High School. After graduating in 2001, he was hired on the city’s streets department full-time.
“My true passion was to work for the parks department, so I ended up going back over there. I’ve been there for a very long time,” he said with a laugh.
He’s been stationed out at High Park for the last 12 years, and he also takes care of five satellites outside the park. All-in-all, he mows and tends about 160 acres with two entry-level employees.
Working out in the heat is not easy, but you’ll hear no complaints from Swindler.
“I love my job,” he said as he drove a golf cart around High Park on Friday, cutting tree limbs in preparation for the fireworks show. “Getting to be out here in nature, the outdoors. It’s great.”
Prior to events at High Park, Swindler not only takes care of general landscaping responsibilities like mowing, but will also help set up designated areas, power, the stage, port-a-potties, water, and more. If an event is on the weekend, preparation usually begins that Monday or the week before.
Swindler will sometimes work weekends, especially if there is heavy rain in the days leading up to an event at High Park, which prevents him from mowing while also contributing to the growth of the grass and foliage. Such was the case before the fireworks show on the Fourth.
One of the pleasures of the job is working with his city colleagues and management, Swindler said. He said he appreciates everyone in the city’s effort.
“They’re a treat to work with,” he said. “They do a very good job to get what I need to get the job done.”
Recently, Swindler said he has enjoyed improvements to the park like the installation of flower beds and upgrades to playground equipment.
“This community wants to see good things,” he said. “So we have a really high standard of what we want our parks to look like.”
The ultimate joy, however, is getting to see happy patrons at a successful event like the BBQ fest.
“It’s just amazing to see all of them and see how they come together, and how it all comes together,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in trying to make things look as nice as possible, and it’s nice to see it because you can see what you can improve on next year.”