A woman stands with her hand on a tree.

Susan Blackledge, Park Manager at Berry Springs Park and Preserve since its opening in 2005, poses for a portrait among the grove of pecan trees at the park on Thursday. She is retiring on May 6.Photo by Andy Sharp


A life of firsts

Builder of Berry Springs Park takes her leave


By ANDY SHARP

 

Berry Springs Park and Preserve, Williamson County’s  scenic 277-acre park on County Road 152 northeast of Georgetown, has been open since 2005. Since its beginning, Susan Blackledge has been its only park manager, but retirement beckons the 63-year-old who has worked in parks and recreation for 44 years.


Her last day will be Thursday, May 6.  Mrs. Blackledge was raised in San Antonio, graduating from McArthur High School in 1976. Her education continued with a Bachelor of Science in Recreation Services from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) in 1980; she eventually earned a Master of Science in Leisure Services and Studies from Florida State University in 1991.

 

Her career path was filled with firsts. In 1981-82 she was the first director of the Port Aransas Parks and Recreation Department. In the summer of 1982 she was the first female lifeguard supervisor in the Nueces County Parks Department. In 1983, she came to Austin as the first female manager of the Emma Long Metro Park. Then in 1988-90 Mrs. Blackledge was the first female manager of Austin’s Barton Springs Pool. With help from the Boy Scouts, she  helped build Austin’s Turkey Creek Nature Trail.

 

“I hopped around so much, it made things interesting,” she said. One summer she worked on a cruise ship based in Antigua.

 

Fast forward to her tenure at Berry Springs Park, where she’s not only manager, but also  involved in Master Gardeners of Williamson County and the local chapter of Goodwater Master Naturalists.
“I just passed 2,500 hours of volunteer work for the Master Naturalists,” she said with pride.
When asked about prime accomplishments at Berry Springs Park, she mentions flowers. “When we first got here,” she said, “the only flower beds were at the park cemetery. Now we have 30.” Completion of the park’s nature trail in 2017 is another source of pride. The park continues to maintain 60 acres of prairie restoration.

 

A woman stands with two donkeys.

Susan Blackledge stands with Pedro, left, and Lil’ Bob, the park’s resident donkeys.

Anyone who has visited the park is familiar with its extensive grove of almost 100-year-old pecan trees, the first thing you’ll see as you drive in. The drought in 2011 was a low point for the trees, when 36 were lost, but the acreage is still known for its grand old pecan trees.
Once in the park, two of the park’s residents, donkeys Pedro and Lil’ Bob, are popular with kids and adults alike. With Mrs.Blackledge, too.

 

As she prepares to leave Berry Springs Park, she expresses concern about one of the area’s most popular parks. “We’re going to get loved to death. Treat it with respect, and leave no trace,” she advised future park-goers.

 

Other than the manager, the park has only one full-time employee and two part-timers, but Blackledge couldn’t be prouder of the park’s volunteers, Friends of Berry Springs, who do extensive work there. For those interested in helping, visit their website, www.friendsofberrysprings.org.

 

In retirement, Blackledge says she wants to “practice what I preach.” She and her husband of 32 years, Edgar Blackledge, will soon settle into a home on four acres near Lake Granger. Joining them there will be their dogs, Wallee and Wilma.

 

“I want to play and work in our back yard,” she said.

 

Mrs. Blackledge will be at Berry Springs on Friday, May 7, for a party in her honor, scheduled 3-5 p.m. at the Tonkawa Pavilion, where there will be music, line dancing and maybe some games of 42 dominoes, one of the retiring manager’s favorites.

 


April 30 | 4:00 pm