Jed Fisher, director of the Flathead County Parks and Recreation department since 1990, is retiring after 35 years as a public employee.
Fisher, 56, came to Flathead from Glacier County to manage the weed department, which was “just depleted,” when he took over.
“There were really old vehicles and we would run two people per vehicle, one person driving and one sitting on the hood to spray weeds,” Fisher said. “I oversaw the upgrade and we became quite successful in the weed world.”
In 1997, the county combined the weed department with parks and recreation, with Fisher in charge. Five years later, the county commissioners merged building maintenance under Fisher’s umbrella, and the local weed guru took on another job he knew little about.
“It made my career and my job very interesting — I was always involved in new things and stepping beyond just the weed-control aspect,” Fisher said. “It was very educational.”
During his tenure, Fisher ran the county’s mosquito control program; oversaw the remodeling of the historic courthouse, the county’s south campus and DMV buildings; and expanded the park system, all while operating with a limited staff.
“We could save taxpayers by transferring people from weed control to parks duty and back,” Fisher said. “The staff I’ve worked with has just been incredible.”
Due to the diversity of duties, Fisher reported to both the county commissioners and two separate boards of directors, giving him a half dozen bosses at any time. He estimates he has worked for two dozen commissioners during his time.
Randy Brodehl, current chair of the Flathead County Commission, expressed his gratitude for Fisher’s three decades of service to the county in an email to the Beacon.
“Our children and the generations that follow will appreciate our parks throughout their lives because of his love for what he does,” Brodehl said.
County Administrator Mike Pence worked with Fisher for 16 years, longer than anyone else in the county.
“Jed took great pride in his work,” Pence said in an email to the Beacon. “The recreational programs provided by Parks has provided great opportunity for all our citizens and especially our youth who Jed cared so much about.”
Pence also noted that Fisher was recently nominated to receive the Montana Weed Control Association’s Barb Mullin Lifetime Achievement Award for his decades of work. Fisher previously won the Montana Weed District of the Year award in 2001.
One major accomplishment from Fisher’s time at the parks department was the development of Volunteer Park in Lakeside, which was expanded to nearly 5 acres in 2019.
“[The county] appreciates Jed’s leadership and services on many fronts and wish him the best in his retirement and future endeavors,” Pence wrote.
While Fisher is proud of his work for the county, he maintains a few regrets as he heads into retirement. One is that he was unable to find a reliable, non-taxpayer revenue source for the department to help with financial struggles.
“In addition to the trail system, and we haven’t allocated funding for maintaining our trails, we have 25 parks in the county that aren’t maintained due to lack of funding,” Fisher said.
The solution he had in mind was building a gymnasium in the county that would serve as a steady source of income.
At one point, plans for the gym were close to fruition, but Fisher said the plans grew overzealous, at one point ballooning from an initial $3-4 million facility to one costing more than $16 million. Various planned versions of the gym included an Olympic-sized pool, indoor track and seating for 6,000 people, a large enough venue to host Class AA state tournaments.
“I should have scaled it back, and then built on as the money proved we could cover maintenance and improvements,” Fisher said. “I think what will make my successor successful is to keep pushing that type of need for this department.”
The county will be posting the open position, according to Pence. While he has no say in his successor, Fisher hopes someone from within the department will prove the right fit for the job.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I think new blood can do even more. We need to continue to augment and supplement the needs of the citizens,” Fisher said. “That’s what this was to me: being able to supply our people with good, quality recreational activities and opportunities.”
Fisher’s last day with the department will be March 31, but he plans to keep working, first in the real estate world and ultimately as a fishing guide.
“I’ve got 100 fishing poles between ice fishing and fly fishing and every type of tackle ever,” Fisher said. “I just want to fish and get paid for it.”
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.