Alex Strobehn, a Master of Public Administration student at NMU, prepared the master recreation plan for the City of Sault Ste. Marie that goes into effect Feb. 1. What started out as a short-term directed study morphed into a more complex project incorporating a public survey and detailed analysis of the city’s recreation services. Strobehn was so committed to drafting a quality plan for a community he admires that he invested about 400 hours, enrolled in an internship class he wasn’t required to take and even worked on the project during his military deployment to Kuwait.
Communities must have an approved, five-year recreation plan on file with the Michigan DNR to apply for grants to acquire land for parks and open space, or to develop recreation facilities. A full-time planner completed the Soo’s last submission. Strobehn had reviewed the document while serving on a volunteer community services board that oversaw the city’s parks and recreation department. The Detroit native was pursuing his bachelor’s degree at LSSU.
“I was on the citizen side that time and thought it would be nice to be on the other side,” said Strobehn. “The plan is designed to give a snapshot of how far the city has come in the last five years, where it stands now in terms of parks and rec assets and what priorities it hopes to accomplish in the next five years. It also lays out lofty, long-range goals you probably can’t afford, but would like to accomplish. The new city manager’s working on a walkway along the Cloverland Powerland Cooperative canal that runs through town was first proposed 100 years ago when they dug the canal. That shows how long it can take for lofty goals to get checked off the list.”
Strobehn serves with the 127th Wing, Michigan Air National Guard. His unit was deployed to Kuwait from April-October 2015 as part of targeted operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. As an armament technician, he loads, repairs and maintains weapon systems on the A10 Thunderbolt II—commonly known as Warthog. During breaks from his 12-hour shifts six days a week, he worked on the recreation master plan draft.
“I would have Skype calls with Alex and he was in a Quonset hut with insane noise and commotion while military personnel could be seen in the background,” said Jennifer James-Mesloh, MPA program coordinator and assistant professor. “However, given all these obstacles, he maintained weekly calls with me, as well as with the city manager and assistant city manager of Sault Ste. Marie.”
Three days after his unit returned to lower Michigan, Strobehn traveled to the Soo to finalize the draft with city officials. He also attended a public comment session in December.
“Our plan is 211 pages, including appendices,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the average citizen could read it without feeling intimated and we wanted to be as transparent as possible. It was a great learning process. It’s rewarding to see my name listed first in the credits, but it was a solid team effort.”
Strobehn will graduate with his MPA this spring. He said he may seek a municipal management position or go on full-time active duty with the military and apply for an officer commission.