SURREY — After 25 years at Surrey City Hall, longtime parks manager Owen Croy has decided to take a different trail.
At 5 p.m. last Friday (May 26), Croy left his desk for the final time.
“I’m healthy and I’ve got a great parks system with great people in place to manage it, and it was the right time to go out,” Croy told the Now-Leader on his last day.
The department will now be “managed by a younger crowd who have fresh new innovative ideas,” he said. “We don’t just cut grass and prune trees anymore.”
Croy first joined the City of Surrey in 1992 to work with the Urban Forest and Sports Field Management sections.
Just three years later, he became Surrey’s Manager of Parks.
Since that time, he’s been instrumental in the city’s park system changing dramatically.
The number of Surrey street trees has increased nearly six-fold during his time, from 13,000 to 76,000.
The city’s acres of urban forests, greenbelts, neighbourhood parks, community and city parks has grown from 2,767 acres to 7,255 acres – a 162 per cent increase.
The number of water parks in Surrey rose from 1 to 11 during his time at the helm. While the city had no artificial turf fields when he was hired, it now has 14.
And Surrey’s trail system has grown from from 75 kilometres to 250.
“I have a passion for green spaces, urban forests and parks,” said Croy. “It drives my wife a little bit nuts but when we travel I’m always taking photographs of what we see in different parts of the world to share how we can better our system here.
“It’s great when your passion coincides with your work. I’ve been very lucky in that way.”
While Croy praised Surrey’s city council over the years for having the “foresight to purchase and acquire enough parkland,” he said the people of Surrey deserve kudos as well.
He’s impressed by the “level of philanthropic contribution” exhibited by residents.
“Many, many years ago, Doris Skelton donated 65 acres of land to the city,” he said.
“That’s now called Hi-Knoll Park. She started the ball rolling, but Surrey really picked up the process in the early 1990s when Edwin and Francisca contributed the 7.5 acre estate Darts Hill garden.
“Mrs. Darts lived on the site for a very long time, into her 90s, and after she passed she gave a substantial gift of money for an endowment to SurreyCares for ongoing maintenance for the garden.
“What she’s done is a great example of how individuals can contribute to the park system.”
There were numerous others who donated land, he said, including Jim and Elfriede DeWolf, who donated the five-acre estate The Glades garden.
“The most recent acquisition is a gift that has come from the Godwin Family. Tom and Elaine Godwin and their four sons created a beautiful forested 25-acre site that they farmed, but also grew thousands of trees…. They recently gave the 25-acre homestead parcel to the city.
“So that is a huge, huge thing, that the people of Surrey are giving back to their own community. The city facilitates that, of course, but it’s the people themselves who recognize the value of their charitable giving.
“They are creating a legacy for the future. It’s outstanding,” he added.
He also praised the thousands of volunteers, some of whom have been with the city for 30 years, for helping to make Surrey’s park system what it is today.
During his time at city hall, Croy has led numerous accomplishments.
In fact, he was instrumental in the negotiations with property owners to achieve the addition of Darts Hill Garden Park and The Glades.
Without Croy’s persistence, meeting regularly with the owners and letting them know of the outcomes of donating their properties, Darts Hill Garden Park and The Glades might not be city assets today.
Croy also spearheaded the development of city policies around the maintenance and operation of the Darts Hill Garden Park.
The city described him as a “guiding light” of the Darts Hill Conservancy Trust Society, of which he served on the board of directors until this year.
Asked if there were any projects he wished he’d completed before leaving city hall, Croy said one comes to mind.
Croy wishes to see an environmental conservation endowment established with the SurreyCares Foundation.
“I have been speaking to members in environmental community in the last few weeks, and have had preliminary discussions with SurreyCares. I’d like to see something where people can contribute to an environmental conservation fund, then the income can be used to fund environmental projects in the city. It’s something I may work a bit on in my retirement.”
Croy also said “the wheels are in motion on many projects” and that some exciting land acquisitions will soon be finalized.
“I’m not sad they didn’t get done before I left, but happy they’re underway. Stay tuned,” he said.
Though Croy is leaving Surrey City Hall, he’s not retiring.
He plans to continue his work with various organizations.
“I’ll be teaching, and I have for a number of years now, an introduction to urban forestry and open space systems for UBC, primarily for international students,” said Croy.
“So while I’m retired from the city, I’m very busy both with UBC work, and I do a lot of work with non-profit organizations that support parks and urban forestry.”
He sits on the board of directors of the Society of Municipal Arborists, other horticulture groups, and is an instructor with the Municipal Forestry Institute, through which he teaches one-week training programs for parks managers and urban foresters.
Croy said he will begin his leave from Surrey City Hall “with a bang,” embarking upon a month-long cycling trip to Croatia and Tuscany with his wife, but not before finishing his work day last Friday (May 26).
“Well I’m busy still reviewing memos and reports and providing some editing on some documentation,” he said from his desk.
“And I’ll probably end up drinking a few coffees with colleagues here then I’ll slip out the door, and life will carry on in very good hands.
“Those that come after me will stand on my shoulders and reach higher heights, I’m sure.”