NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Steve Wright is someone who has spent his life around a lot of parks.
This expert in parks has seen every state park — and multiple times — in Rhode Island. He’s even helped develop some, created bike paths and watched over every state-owned beach. In 2012, his unique set of skills earned him an appointment as the town’s park and recreation director.
“I thought this would be just a short (time) in the position,” said Wright about the twist of fate that left him town director after retiring as the long-time superintendent of state parks and beaches as well as chief of the state division of parks.
This state experience makes him someone who knows how to build and maintain parks of all kinds, whether grassy, sandy, mountainous, bike paths or hiking trails. His roots were set down in 1974 as a laborer working with a shovel, rake and wheelbarrow. He leaves nearly 50 years later with dirt on his hands from every day work.
On June 15 Wright will retire a second time— now from the town — but said this departure is for good. It will be almost exactly nine years after the Narragansett Town Council appointed him.
Wright, 67, recently took some time from Memorial Day opening preparations for town facilities and beaches to look back at shaping up Narragansett’s prized offerings and attractions to residents, tourists and summer vacationers.
“We have improved almost every single component,” he said about the team of parks and recreation staff. In rapid succession he lists the projects that unfolded during his tenure.
New and secure fencing and safety for baseball dugouts, development and expansion of the Middlebridge marina area offering boat moorings and kayak rentals among several offerings and various beach-area improvements including parking lot repairs.
In addition, there have been North and South pavilion upgrades as well as refurbishing of cabanas, repairs to the community center, extended programming for residents of all ages and a new congregate hot and cold meals program that starts in July.
These start a very long list of accomplishments.
It would be near impossible for a comprehensive list for a man who dedicated nearly 50 years of his life to making other people’s enjoyment of the outdoors and natural resources possible, say town officials and supporters of the Parks and Recreation Department.
With a little prying, thought, Wright admitted the job can be demanding.
“I have worked weekends every year at the beach. I really wanted to be in tune because of everything going on,” he said about keeping a watchful eye over crowds, staff and food service workers.
A melee broke out two weeks ago at the town beach resulting in arrests of eight out-of-town people involved the fights. Police from several departments soon calmed the situation.
Wright said with pre- or post-season visitors to beaches during unexpected heat waves trouble can lurk, but parks and recreation officials and police remain focused on keeping the beaches safe.
Whether handling unexpected fights or just ensuring the smooth operations, the job of overseeing the beach comes with much responsibility.
Praise for Wright
Town Manager James Tierney said, “Our town beach is rated as one of the best in the nation and it’s no mistake, it takes a lot of hard work and sustained effort throughout the year.”
He noted, “It’s countless hours of days, evenings, and holidays planning and executing fireworks shows, countless programs, concerts, festivals, and regular maintenance of the beautiful facilities in town.”
In a glimpse about their day-to-day working relationship on this important public service, Tierney described Wright as “a true gentleman and a consummate professional, and over the last couple years, he has become a trusted colleague and friend.”
“Steve truly loves the Town of Narragansett, but he is so humble, I don’t think he realizes how much he has done to make Narragansett a better place to live and visit. Now, that’s a legacy!” Tierney said.
Justin Skenyon, a town school committee member and also on the town’s recreation advisory board, praised Wright.
“Years ago I was fortunate to have worked for Steve at the town beach and can appreciate his leadership first hand. Narragansett has been extremely fortunate,” he said.
However, Wright, a town resident, may soon see parks from the other side. He has a two-month-old grandson, Adam, whom he plans to spend more time with – and at some local parks.
The outgoing director also is looking forward to traveling with his wife, Patricia, and seeing more of daughters Catlin, Kristen and Megan.
“We are short-term stewards,” he said, “to the property we manage. My hope is that we leave it in a better condition that we found it and I hope that all people enjoy it.”