Editor’s note: Our series, “Wheeling@Work,” is an effort to provide readers with insight and information into our city government, highlighting the personalities, programs and processes at work within the City of Wheeling. Today’s story features Jesse Mestrovic, director of Parks and Recreation.
Get on a bike. Drop a kayak into the river. Lace up your walking shoes. Whatever it is that gets you out and helps you see our fair city in a different light, Jesse Mestrovic wants you to do it.
As director of parks and recreation for the city of Wheeling, Mestrovic does more than just talk about the outdoors. He lives and breathes an enthusiasm for a culture of wellness that starts in our own backyard.
Whether he’s biking into work or refereeing middle school football games, Mestrovic says he sees his job as that of a liaison fostering partnerships that benefit the entire community.
“From my apartment in Woodsdale, I can bike or drive, and it takes seven minutes to get to work. Having the availability to do that is incredible,” he said. “People will flag me down to ask about a certain park or playground.”
THE PLAYING FIELD
Mestrovic’s department oversees the city’s 22 playgrounds and 30 public spaces. Backed by a council that ran on a platform of revitalizing our park system and neighborhoods, Mestrovic has been afforded the opportunity to see what has worked for bigger cities and bring those ideas home to work for Wheeling.
“We’ve replaced 12 of the 22 playgrounds, which is a massive undertaking for our community,” Mestrovic said. “We have a mission to get our playgrounds and park spaces up to the national parks standards.”
In looking at parks and recreation spaces in cities like Marietta, Ohio, Mestrovic said he sees the potential that Wheeling has for further development and change that enhances the lives of residents.
“I look at other cities as models. Marietta has 22 miles of green space. We have all this green, lush, undeveloped hillside,” he said. “We could develop more as hiking or biking trails, and we could encourage people to use them.”
Though these changes haven’t been quick or at times easy, Mestrovic said Wheeling’s history often plays a unique role in deciding how and where a recreational space is made.
“It’s amazing how much history plays into parks and rec, and a lot of our land use is associated with that,” he said. “There used to be an incline in Mozart. The casino that the Schmulbach’s built was also there. Wheeling is 250 years this year, and it’s something that’s remarkable. It’s a proud element for us.”
Efforts like revitalizing the Pig Path/Trolley Trail in Woodsdale speak to that history as Mestrovic strives to keep our natural spaces true to their roots but bring parts of parks and rec into the 21st century. In the coming year, Mestrovic said he looks forward to modernizing scheduling for the use of baseball fields and camps by offering residents and teams an online scheduling platform.
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“We have 22 ballfields for the city, and I get a list of games, but I don’t get a list of practices,” he explained. “Up until now, it’s been pen and paper. Now I can be aware of who is using what field. Any change and development has growing pains, but the outlook that I’m looking forward to in the next couple years is that we’ll say, ‘How did we live without it?’ People have an expectation of doing it online now. There’s phases to that, and I’m looking forward to it.”
A PASSION FOR (HIS) LIVING
In talking with Mestrovic, you get the sense that he’s hardly ever not at work. This is not to say that the man’s a workaholic, but more that he’s so passionate about what he does for a living, that it’s an intrinsic part of who Mestrovic is. After finishing his bachelor’s degree in biology, Mestrovic pursued a master’s degree in parks and recreation at West Virginia University and spent time completing research at the Stanislaus National Forest in California. Then, it was a study abroad program in Austria and work at Tomlinson Run State Park.
When he’s not physically at work, Mestrovic maintains an online presence through ohiovalleyadventure.com. He uses the site as a platform to encourage locals to explore our great big backyard, whether it be through hiking and fishing or disc golf and mountain biking. Non-work-related adventures have taken him to Vietnam, Machu Picchu and to Colorado for ice climbing.
“I like to ski and snowboard. I try to stay fit and active,” Mestrovic said. “Health and wellness is who I am, and I try to encourage others.”
For those of us who see losing the remote in the couch cushions as a workout, know that Mestrovic said he also enjoys reading on his porch and lying in his hammock. And on occasion, he also enjoys writing for websites including this one. It’s all part of what he said is a calling to grow where you’re planted and spread roots that leave a legacy.
“I naturally follow passions, and I’m one of the lucky ones that that’s part of my job,” Mestrovic said.
“My dad was a coal miner, and he always said, ‘Find something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ I’ve had the opportunity to speak to the interns at the Community Foundation of the Ohio Valley every year. I want kids to know that people don’t have to leave Wheeling to have opportunities. Being a small town with big-town amenities, you find advantages here you don’t anywhere else. I feel very lucky being in this position.”
• Cassie Bendel was born in Wheeling and raised in Bellaire. A graduate of St. Vincent College, she began her writing career as a reporter with The Times Leader and the Steubenville Herald-Star before writing content for SiriusXM Satellite Radio and a national faith-based consulting company. After more than a decade in Pennsylvania, she has moved back to the Ohio Valley with her husband and two sons.