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Shawn Porter takes helm at Look Park in Northampton after Ray Ellerbrook retires

  • Look Park's new Executive Director Shawn Porter, left, poses with former executive director Ray Ellerbrook and a cake representation of a Look Park train at Ellerbrook's retirement party at the Garden House Sunday. Photo courtesy of Look Park.

    Look Park's new Executive Director Shawn Porter, left, poses with former executive director Ray Ellerbrook and a cake representation of a Look Park train at Ellerbrook's retirement party at the Garden House Sunday. Photo courtesy of Look Park. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Look Park's new Executive Director Shawn Porter, left, poses with former executive director Ray Ellerbrook at Ellerbrook's retirement party at the Garden House Sunday. Photo courtesy of Look Park.

    Look Park's new Executive Director Shawn Porter, left, poses with former executive director Ray Ellerbrook at Ellerbrook's retirement party at the Garden House Sunday. Photo courtesy of Look Park. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Look Park's new Executive Director Shawn Porter, left, poses with former executive director Ray Ellerbrook and a cake representation of a Look Park train at Ellerbrook's retirement party at the Garden House Sunday. Photo courtesy of Look Park.
  • Look Park's new Executive Director Shawn Porter, left, poses with former executive director Ray Ellerbrook at Ellerbrook's retirement party at the Garden House Sunday. Photo courtesy of Look Park.

Porter, 38, said he has been working in recreation for 20 years, the last three years of which have been spent as the park’s director of operations. He became interim executive director when Ellerbrook retired and was appointed permanently to the post by the board of trustees April 15.

He said he is excited to continue to keep the park “beautiful, fun and safe” for the many area residents who use its trails, playing fields, picnic sites and more.

“I’m originally from Connecticut, but when I came here I fell in love with the area and I love the park,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. “It’s such a gem. And not just in the Pioneer Valley, but in the U.S.”

He said the park is unique because of its diverse offerings, from natural features to a zoo and more amusement park-style attractions such as bumper boats, miniature golf and a water spray park. It is also run by a private nonprofit that is self-sustaining, he said.

Edward Etheredge, chairman of the park’s board of trustees, said Porter was the board’s unanimous choice for the job out of a pool of 11 qualified applicants. In an email, Etheredge said the board was impressed by Porter’s strong recommendations from Ellerbrook and other staff and his work as director of operations.

“The park is in good shape financially and facilities wise, and the board is not necessarily looking for any change in direction,” Etheredge said. “It was important to check the market, but the present requirements for management are well satisfied by Shawn’s qualifications.”

While Porter said he doesn’t have any specific new goals in mind for the park, he will continue many projects Ellerbrook started. They include paving the park roads this week and repairing the aging Memorial Fountain.

“Ray was an amazing power in the park,” Porter said. “He was a strong character, a good guy, a hard worker, and he just did so much for the park.”

Ellerbrook, 65, retired at the end of 2012, citing his age and his interest in spending more time with his grandchildren.

“My health isn’t the greatest, so it’s time to make time for them,” he said Monday.

The job he had for just over 10 years came with long hours and required a lot of energy, he said.

“You wake up every morning thinking about the park, you go to bed every night thinking about the park,” he said.

Ellerbrook said among the projects undertaken during his tenure, he is most pleased with the 2011 and 2012 dredging of Willow Lake and a walkway on the lake shore, near the small sanctuary, that prevents bank erosion and gets visitors closer to the water.

He also worked with city and state officials on two projects to improve park accessibility: the extension of the Norwottuck Rail Trail through the park and into Leeds and the creation of a roundabout at the intersection of the park entrance road, Bridge Road and North Main Street.

Ellerbrook was Northampton director of recreation for 28 years before he started at Look Park on Sept. 30, 2002.

“I’ll miss most the contact with people; you get in the recreation business to be with people,” he said. “You don’t get in it to get rich. With the friends I’ve made and the lives we’ve touched through the park, that’s been the most rewarding part of the whole thing.”

Etheredge said that at Ellerbrook’s retirement party Sunday at the park’s Garden House, the former director was presented with a plaque that will be mounted in his honor at the Willow Lake walkway.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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