By Janice Llanes Fabry from the Rye Record
By all accounts, Russ Gold has the best job in the county. Sure, he’s known to work 100 hours a week during the summer, but he loves what he does. He’s his own boss, makes a difference every day, has a short commute, a great work environment, and water views.
In his third season as Rye Town Park Director, Gold calls his workplace “the crown jewel of the Sound Shore.”
He manages the 62-acre park, which includes 28 acres of lawns, paths, peaceful labyrinths, picnic pavilions, and a bucolic duck pond, along with the 34-acre beachfront and the Barley Beach House restaurant. He oversees the Waterfront Department – Oakland Beach, lifeguards, and first-aid; Grounds and Maintenance; and Security, the park rangers throughout the property. He manages 75 employees in season and modestly commends his “great department heads for doing most of the heavy lifting.”
No job is too big or too small. Even before taking over as Park Director, Gold became recertified as a waterfront lifeguard to fill the void left on the beach by college kids going back to school.
Rye Town Park is also where this casual triathlete has remained fit for decades. He cycles all over the county, but it’s at Rye Town Park he runs and boasts “there is so much space you never have to run on the streets.”
He also partakes in the park’s Open Water Swimming Program, which he created. In-shore and off-shore courses are available three evenings per week.
The avid swimmer grew up in Wantagh, Long Island, the gateway to Jones Beach. “I’ve always been in a place where I had easy access to the water. There’s always been a connection,” he said.
Russ and his wife Margaret have lived in Rye, three blocks away from the park, for 30 years. Raising their daughter Erica and son Daniel here, they would have the kids’ birthday parties at the park. They often walk together there, enjoy the concerts, and still attend the Friday night firework displays. A web development specialist, Margaret even helps maintain the Friends of Rye Town Park website.
Back in the spring of 2019 when the Rye Town Park Commission pegged Gold for Park Director, he was already quite adroit at multitasking. Professionally, Gold had spent most of his life in the private sector, as an operations manager specializing in global logistics for large manufacturing companies. That and his longtime advocacy on behalf of Rye Town Park made him the obvious choice.
“It’s all about how good a juggler you are,” he admitted. “I agreed to take the job because, for decades, I and a handful of other like-minded residents were concerned about the lack of transparency regarding park operations. It was time to take a stand.”
Gold and his team gradually implemented order and accountability, along with an environmental management system. For example, all cash transactions between staff and parkgoers were eliminated by instituting an automated parking system and limiting the amount of overflow parking infringing on greenspace.
“I know every dollar will find its way to the bank,” noted Gold. “I could never have executed these changes by myself. I can’t give enough credit to Town of Rye Supervisor Gary Zuckerman and Town Administrator Debbie Reisner, who see the value in the park and offer unwavering support.”
Gold was pleased to reopen Rye Town Park this summer to full capacity. “People are a lot more relaxed and not as agitated as they were with last year’s restrictions,” he observed.
During the pandemic, the park’s beach was the only public one that remained open but capacity was cut by 50 percent. “We followed all the safety guidelines and were the only game in town,” recalled Gold. “Our first obligation was to our residents in the City of Rye and the Town of Rye, which includes all Port Chester, Rye Brook, and Rye Neck residents.”
Inclusivity is a top priority for Gold, from making the park accessible to all the surrounding communities to accommodating camps for underprivileged kids.
“We’re the only municipal park I am aware of that sells season passes to non-residents,” he noted. “One of our primary goals is to make the beach and park more accessible to people with special needs, and to that end, the Commission had renovated the beach entrance ramps and pathways renovated to be ADA-compliant.”
The revenue raised through season and day passes, licensing agreements, space and kayak rentals, television show filming, and celebrity photo shoots merely covers operating expenses, so Gold did not skip a beat when asked about his wish list for the park.
He explained that the commitment of the Town of Rye Sustainability Committee and the instrumental capital purchases by Friends of Rye Town Park have been invaluable, but lots more is required.
“I am so passionate about this park that I’d love to have enough revenue to rehabilitate the decaying infrastructure throughout,” he responded. “The 112-year-old administrative building, the bathrooms, the First Aid building, and the lifeguard shack are rapidly decaying. We need to implement safe conditions for our patrons.”
He’d also like to upgrade technology, as there is currently no public WiFi on site. Until those projects come to fruition, Gold, his staff, and a bevy of volunteers continue their efforts to make the park more welcoming and beautiful every day.
At the close of the interview, Gold proudly pointed out the park’s new flourishing pollinator garden, spearheaded by Lori Fontanes, and divulged his new role, as beekeeper. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to find a more appealing workplace and community sanctuary.