To make the outdoors enjoyable and accessible to all – that’s more than a job for Brian Noel, director of parks and recreation for the City of Canyon. It’s his personal passion.
Noel was recently named 2017 Canyon News Citizen of the Year for his tireless work on Canyon’s various parks.
“Brian is one of the most dedicated, hard-working people I’ve ever known. He’s got energy, enthusiasm, and vision with the intellect to put all the pieces together, resulting in a truly amazing man,” said Randy Criswell, City manager. “He’s not just his job; he’s a committed citizen of Canyon. He’s truly a man I admire, and it gives me extreme pleasure to work with him. It’s really awesome to see that the community sees and appreciates his effort and vision. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.”
Brian said that he was surprised when he was notified about the being named as Citizen of the Year by The Canyon News.
“In that back of your mind you think that it would be nice to be recognized for something, but then when it actually happened, I didn’t see it coming,” he said. “It’s very humbling, and I’m very grateful for it. It’s something I never expected it happen.”
The Canyon News presented the 2017 Citizen of the Year award to Brian earlier this month at the annual Canyon Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner.
“Brian Noel was chosen the Canyon News Citizen of the Year based on his integrity, hard work, dedication to Canyon and his willingness to go out of his way to make this small-town jewel the best destination in the Texas Panhandle,” said Tim Ritter, managing editor of The Canyon News.
While there have been many projects – large and small – to the parks system in Canyon during his tenure with the City, Brian said that he focuses more on the overall amenities offered to the public.
“I’m all about the whole, big picture and not one certain project,” Brian said.
He said the creation of the Canyon Aqua Park and upgrade of the Kent Johnson Baseball Complex, have not only been positive additions to Canyon but have also modernized the parks.
“When we did a parks survey back a few year ago, the No. 1 thing people wanted was a new water park or swimming pool, so we got it done. It was the first big step to making the parks just that much better. We took something that had been here since the mid-1950s and brought it into the new century. The CAP is a step forward for Canyon and more user-friendly,” Brian said.
“The baseball complex was something that was really needed. What we previously had did not have the amenities that other baseball fields have to have to be successful. Kent was a good friend of mine, so to have his name on it was a tribute to him. He loved baseball; it was his life. He put his heart and soul into those fields and the kids.”
Another large project, that should see the start of construction in the fall, is a new all-accessible playground in the northwest area of Conner Park.
“It’s all-inclusive with a wheelchair swing and other things that will stimulate kids who are autistic or have a variety of sensory or accessibility issues,” Brian said. “It’s not just a playground. It’s more of a center to elevate our parks to this century for kids who have an array of abilities and needs. It’s totally different from anything we currently have.”
Southwest AMBUCS, the Amarillo area chapter of National AMBUCS, is a non-profit service organization dedicated to creating mobility and independence for people with disabilities. The group recently worked with the City of Amarillo to create an all-accessible park and splash pad.
“It was one of those things that I was at the right place at the right time and asked the right person,” Brian said. “They had built the park in Amarillo, and I asked an AMBUCS member if that could be done in Canyon. They were onboard because their ultimate goal is to have a fully accessible playground in each of the top 26 counties of the Panhandle. This will be a new, up-to-date playground that’s all-inclusive for next to nothing. AMBUCS will take donations and fund it.”
Brian said he wanted to bring Canyon a new playground that was accessible to all kids.
“The rate of kids with autism and sensory issues has been elevated so high now and that number is growing every day. There’s really nothing out there for them. Most playgrounds have a swing set, merry-go-round, and a few apparatuses. Maybe that’s not their thing. They need a different type of stimulation to be successful,” he said. “That’s what we need to offer. There are more and more kids every day who are diagnosed and we need something for them too. Parks shouldn’t just be for the kids who can run, jump and play.”
The current playground equipment at Conner Park will remain there throughout the summer. Most of that equipment will be moved to the Brown Road Sports Complex.
“Some of the items out there are very old, so we will be discarding some of it. What we can still use, we’re taking to Brown Road. Since we have eight soccer fields and are adding 10 more football fields out there, a playground is needed,” Brian said. “That allows kids who are not playing sports to have a safe place to play and keep them from running around and out of sight of their parents.”
Thanks to a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, running and biking trails are going to be added to the Brown Road complex, Conner Park and the entire perimeter of Paul Lindsey Park, formerly known at Southeast Park.
“Not everybody can get across town to get to another park that has a walking trail. We have people of all ages who like to be active. This will add something so that more people can get to a local park, get some exercise and activity and enjoy nature,” Brian said.
Brian said he’s always thinking about the next step for the parks in Canyon. He hopes to one day add more baseball fields to the Kent Johnson Baseball Complex, greatly improve the skate park at Paul Lindsey Park and purchase land to expand Conner Park, specifically adding a disc golf course. Another goal is to eventually connect West Texas A&M University and each City park by a biking trail, perhaps even working with other entities expand the trail to Buffalo Lake outside of Canyon.
“I work for the citizens of Canyon. If they come to me for a concern that’s feasible, viable and will serve the people of Canyon, I’m going to see if we can make it happen and I’ll work to get it done,” Brian said. “If the parks board and the commissioners get on board with an idea, I’ll find a way to do it. I’ll go after grants or find a way to make it feasible. We will see if we can it accomplished for little to no cost. Everybody has a budget and sometimes our budgets are allocated to other things. I always look for a way to do things out of the box.”
Brian and his family have lived in Canyon since 1992. While being a parks director is not his first career, it is something he values as a way to serve the community he greatly values.
“This job is what I hoped it would be. I had visions of what I wanted the Canyon parks system to be, and what I hoped it could be. I’m not the guy who rides a mower every day. I’m a guy who will work every day to improve or make things different,” he said.
“I’m a small town America guy. I’m a West Texas guy. I think Canyon is an awesome place to live. It’s a great community. It’s small enough you don’t have big town problems, but there are a lot of things here many small towns don’t have,” he said. “Canyon is always evolving and something is always happening. We have Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, West Texas A&M University, the play ‘TEXAS’ and now The CAP. It’s an awesome place to be part of, and we have a lot of well-educated people here who expect a lot and want to make sure their town is the best in the Panhandle. I like that, and I want to do my part to make sure Canyon is the best it can be.”