Russellville native chosen to head Benton parks

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published October 4, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 3, 2012 at 8:48 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

John Eckart is the new director of Parks and Recreation for Benton. He is a native of Russellville. He was an all-conference athlete at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and earned a Master of Business Administration degree there. He is a former assistant athletic director for facilities and operations for Florida International University.

— The new director of parks in Benton said he looks forward to good things as the city works to enhance its parks.

“Benton has an enormous amount of promise when it comes to recreation in the city,” said John Eckart, who was announced as head of the Benton Parks and Recreation Department on Sept. 10. “I know the mayor and the Benton City Council want to improve the parks, and they wanted someone who could look at the big picture.”

Mayor David Mattingly said Eckart impressed the search committee during the interview process.

“I am pleased to have people of his caliber leading the parks department,” Mattingly said. “I think he is someone with a vision that can take the parks department to another level.”

Eckart is the first permanent parks director to report directly to the mayor and be advised by a parks committee, made up of five Benton City Council members and chaired by Alderman Steve Lee.

Before the retirement of Curtis McComack earlier this year, the Benton Parks and Recreation Department was headed by a parks commission. Robert Edward served as interim director for the parks department until Eckart took over the job Sept. 17.

Mattingly said Eckart would drive the agenda of the parks committee as the staff representative. Eckart said he knows a master plan for parks and recreation exists. He has not studied it, but said he is aware the council and mayor seek a diversity of recreation opportunities for the residents s of Benton.

“I’ve always been interested in athletics and recreation,” Eckart said. “This job is an interesting challenge.”

A native of Russellville, he was a track and field athlete at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and was named Sunbelt All-Conference in cross country.

While earning a degree in finance, followed by a Master of Business Administration degree, at UALR, Eckart worked for the university’s athletic department in facility operations.

He joined Florida International University in Miami in 2005 as assistant athletic director for facilities and operations.

“That job was a lot of fun,” Eckart said. “It was great to be part of creating a $35 million football stadium and then looking after its operation.”

He said the venue first opened with 18,000 seats but has since been expanded to seat 25,000 spectators.

Along with the football field, Eckart worked in game management, as well as operations and facilities of a basketball arena, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts and other sports facilities. He also looked after the athletic equipment and landscaping at the sports venues.

“When we checked his references,” Mattingly said, “the people in Florida thought the world of him, and he came highly recommended by UALR.”

Eckart said he hopes to bring a field-and-turf maintenance person into the parks department to help make improvements at existing facilities.

“I’ve learned that appearances is a huge thing for parks,” he said. “I want ball fields to roll true and be safe to play on, and the grass in the parks to look good.”

Eckart said the condition of grass in city parks has deteriorated during the heat and drought of the past summer.

“It has been rough,” he said. “Some of the sections of the parks are in good shape, and others need work.”

The mayor said he was happy to hear that Eckart thinks the city’s parks budget is adequate.

“We have a budget that allows us to do many things,” Eckart said. “If we manage the money, we can address a number of items. Expansion is a long-term goal; for now, we will get what we have into better shape.”

Mattingly called Eckart someone who could bring a positive change to the department.

“We need someone who can grab the reins and drive the parks department forward,” he said.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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