With the month of July comes the recognition of Parks & Recreation employees across the country, all of whom work toward the common goal of making their communities a lively and beautiful place.

This is an especially vital task during the summer months, when flowers are supposed to be at their blossomiest and parents of school-aged children are seeking activities for their youngsters to do during the day.

Fortunately, Yankton’s Parks & Rec has Urban Forestry Specialist Lisa Kortan and Recreation Manager Brittany Orr to see that the town is at its most scenic and active throughout this tourist season.

A Sea of Green

As far back as she can remember, Kortan has always had a love of horticulture. Nurtured by growing up on a farm in the Tyndall-Tabor area, Kortan took that passion with her to Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls. After earning her horticultural associates degree, she spent the next several years working at Yankton Nurseries, where she split her time working in both the greenhouse and the retail end of it.

She continued on in that line of profession for another two years at Gurney’s Seed and Nursery in Yankton before learning of a job opening at the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield for a landscape-horticultural instructor.

Despite never having taught before, Kortan said she was drawn to the position.

“The inmates could get associate degrees through the prison, so (the instructors) helped them learn a new trade so they’d have a skillset when they were released,” she explained.

Kortan shared her years of landscaping knowledge with her students through textbooks and hands-on work in the facility’s three greenhouses. The flowers were then placed in various areas throughout the state, including at the state capital in Pierre.

Following what she called a “rewarding” 13 years there, Kortan accepted a position as urban forestry specialist with the Yankton Parks & Rec. She is going on her eighth year in the role.

As part of her job, Kortan oversees all of the town’s tree care - which involves trimming, pruning, mulching, etc. - and the flowers placed in Yankton’s downtown district.

During the summer months, Kortan has a small crew of three that help her with various tasks, from pulling weeds to watering the flowers.

“Right now, we’re working on putting up bug traps sent by the state against the emerald ash borer,” Kortan said, adding that cleaning up the landscapes is vital at this time of year.

“It’s about keeping everything alive, weed-free and looking good,” she said.

Kortan’s duties change quite a bit in the winter months, with snow removal taking up a large chunk of her time. When not doing that, she and her crew inventory all the trees in town and trim those that are becoming overgrown. She also floods the ice rinks in Sertoma and Tripp Parks and attends conferences relating to her profession.

To bring some color into her life during those gray months, she also plans designs for the downtown flower arrangements that will be set up in the spring.

“The color combos are fun to do,” she said. “We use a petunia variety every year because it’s a proven winner. It takes the heat and the wind and the hail. We stick with what works.”

She noted that times of working in the extreme cold and extreme heat can be difficult on one’s body.

“We try to use as much equipment as we can so we’re not putting all the wear and tear on our bodies,” she said.

Despite the oftentimes grueling work that comes with the job, Kortan says what makes the job worthwhile is when she receives compliments on how good the parks/downtown look.

When not busy prettifying Yankton, she is studying to beccome a certified arborist.

“I do more tree care in the fall and winter than I do in the spring and summer because the landscapes need tending,” she explained. “You go with the seasons of what needs to be done.”

Fun In and Out of the Sun

To say that the summer season is a hectic one for Orr is an understatement.

As recreation manager based at the Summit Center, Orr splits her time between helping set up activities held at the center and working on the business side of things with meetings and paperwork.

That is just how she likes it.

After spending her youth in Colorado, Orr came to South Dakota through a basketball scholarship to attend the University of South Dakota. Upon leaving the university with a master’s in business administration, she took a job as the Yankton Parks & Rec department secretary, followed by recreation coordinator, to her current position, which she has held for two and a half years.

“This (job) is different from what I pursued, but that master’s is very valuable when you’re managing what is essentially the business for the Summit Center,” she said. “Sometimes I’m running around all day and sometimes I’m mostly at my desk. It’s a nice mix.”

During the summer months, Orr spends most of her days helping Summit Center guests find their way around and making sure events at the Memorial Pool go as planned.

“Our summer programs are a big thing right now,” she said. “A majority of them are with school-aged children and toddlers.”

Orr also oversees the sports sponsored by the Yankton Parks & Rec department, which include sand volleyball and softball in the summer, volleyball and basketball in the winter and dodgeball in the spring. She expressed interest in someday adding a flag football league for the fall.

“We coordinate schedules with what seasons are appropriate for (the sport),” she said.

Activity scheduling is trickier during the school year, with Yankton Parks & Rec having to coordinate with the Yankton School District on shared use of the Summit Center.

“In the winter when programming is slower, the facility as far as the Summit Center goes is packed with people,” Orr said. “The school staff are very accomodating, which is good for everybody.”

When planning events and fitness classes to have at the center, Orr and her team try to think of things that will be attractive to a variety of age groups, which can prove to be challenging.

“Trying to please everyone is difficult,” Orr remarked. “Each day is never the same, so you never know what each day will bring as far as issues that come up.”

Fortunately, she has a great team behind her.

“The Parks & Rec staff is one of the best I’ve ever been around,” she said. “When we need something here (at the Summit Center) or we have questions, they are speedy in helping us. (They are) phenomenal.”