Parks Get Professional: Meet Lee Tillery

Lee Tillery High Point Parks & Recreation on Golf Cart at Oak Hollow in High Point, NC

When it comes to the professionalism we’re highlighting this week, it’s easy to think of “professionals” as folks who sit behind desks all day, crunching numbers, and filling out spreadsheets.  

High Point has quite a few of those number-crunching professionals (who we’re very thankful for!), but Lee Tillery’s professional life looks a little bit different.   

“The common theme in Parks and Recreation is that no two days are the same,” says Lee, Director of the High Point Parks & Recreation Department. For Lee, professional life includes budget building, city planning meetings, and managing staff members, but it also includes a fair amount of construction planning, demolition oversight, design, and on-site management. This means it’s not uncommon to find Lee checking with one of our city’s beautiful facilities like the Oak Hollow Lake Golf Course, the marina, City Lake Park, and more. 

In his eight years in High Point, Lee has brought even more expertise and professionalism to our outstanding Parks & Rec Department. Most recently, he was elected to serve as President of the North Carolina Recreation & Park Association (NCRPA), a statewide nonprofit that educates and advocates for other professionals in the parks, recreation, and leisure fields. For this honor, Lee says he has his staff and the City of High Point to thank for their emphasis on professional development. 

“I appreciate the City of High Point being so supportive of professional development and encouraging employees, like myself, to work toward the advancement of their profession, locally, statewide, and nationally,” he says. And on top of that, Lee and the Parks & Rec team secured High Point’s spot as a nationally accredited parks and rec department – something less than 200 parks in the nation have achieved!  

Lee Tillery stands chatting with Steve High, PGA Golf Administrator at Oak Hollow Golf Course.

Lee chatting with Steve High, PGA Golf Administrator at Oak Hollow Golf Course.

High Point is definitely lucky to have a professional leader in his industry like Lee, so we took some time to hear Lee’s story and find out how he climbed the parks and rec ladder to be where he is today. Read our interview below! 

Q: What first inspired you to go into your field? 

A. I believe it dates back to my childhood and my interest of sports and the outdoors. A great deal of my memories as a kid centered around sports, swimming, bike riding, and exploring open space, parks, and creeks with my childhood friends in my hometown of Statesville, NC… As a freshman at Western Carolina University, I really had no idea as to a major and what I wanted to do with my life post-college.  I came across a major that included the word “sport” in it and thought I should investigate that!  

The major was Sport Management, and it prepared us for a career in a variety of disciplines:  professional sports, travel and tourism, college athletic administration, parks and recreation, etc. The program was a natural fit for me, although at that time, I did not know my focus and love would center around parks and recreation. However, the foundation was set, and I would quickly learn how much I loved this profession. 

Q: What was the journey of getting to where you are today?   

After graduation, I took a few jobs in the sales world and quickly realized that was not for me. I met the Director of Recreation and Parks in Statesville a few times and began learning about the Department. There was a job opening in athletics and I applied. The interview process was grueling and lasted two days, but somehow, I landed the job that started me in my career with Parks and Recreation. The Director, John Bullard, and the Athletic Director, Don Earnhardt, gave me a chance, and I will always be appreciative. They are both, to this today, still great mentors and friends to me.  

I loved working in Parks and Recreation from the start and quickly realized what an impact my role played with youth athletics and programming in Statesville.  It was very rewarding from the start…  I worked in athletics for over seven years collectively in Statesville and Mooresville Parks and Recreation and began to realize how much I would love to be a director for a department. That opportunity came in 2003 when I was named Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Lenoir, NC. I then had the opportunity to be the Director in Matthews, NC before moving to High Point in 2013.  

I loved both cities and being a director in both areas taught me so much about parks and recreation that prepared me for this opportunity here in High Point. Looking back, that journey was so important to me professionally, allowed me to work with great professionals in the field, and prepared me for the position I am in today. I am very grateful.

Lee Tillery walking on Oak Hollow Golf Course in High Point, NC

Q: What do you love about Parks and Recreation? 

I am fortunate to be able to work in a profession that I truly love. On any given day, I can go out and see the good that comes along with the services we manage through programming, parks, greenways, special events, etc. Our mission is focused on “enhancing the lives our of citizens.” I see this every day, and it definitely drives me to continue the work of this department, strive for opportunities to make the department even better, and plan for future successes as well. 

Q: What do you wish the HP community knew about Parks and Recreation?   

Our goal is to ensure everyone is aware of our department and the services we provide. Our department is made up of 41 parks, five recreation centers, over nine miles of paved greenway, and over seven miles of natural trails at the Piedmont Environmental Center. We manage two golf courses, provide recreational opportunities on both Oak Hollow and City Lake and employ five sworn law officers that work just within our department.  

We are the 7th largest Parks and Recreation Department in the state and have parks that were first put in place in the 1930s. Finally, both City Lake Park and Washington Terrace Park were a part of President Roosevelt’s Civil Works Administration program which employed men in response to the Great Depression. Work was done in both parks to create concrete paths, transplant trees to both areas and some small infrastructure projects, including aspects of the original pool at City Lake Park! 

The sign for the map stands at High Point City Lake Park.

Q: How will you leave High point better than you found it?   

One of our goals in our department over the last eight years has been to… improve what we have, make needed improvements to our parks and facilities, and look for ways to better serve our citizens. Staying on top of trends in our industry and planning for the future are very important in our industry. We need to be constantly asking ourselves what are our local needs for Parks and Recreation and how do we plan to meet these needs? I am proud that we have completed a Comprehensive Master Plan for the Department and a Greenway Master plan that will help guide the Department into the next 10-15 years. These community-centered plans are great planning guidelines to do just that. 

Q: Why High Point?  

Before coming to High Point, all my experience in parks and recreation had come with smaller departments. I felt the need at that time for a bigger challenge professionally and stayed in the loop on possible openings within the state. I was the director is Matthews, NC and saw where there was a need for an assistant director here in High Point.  I began to learn more about High Point and was amazed at all we had to offer from a recreation standpoint. 

It may not be evident to everyone, but cities the size of High Point usually do not have such amenities as golf courses, lakes to provide recreation on and regional parks like the Piedmont Environmental Center, Washington Terrace Park and City Lake Park.  I loved the idea of being involved with a department that could reach so many people through such a vast parks and recreation infrastructure. That excitement still resonates with me today and motivates me to continue our work in the department to make a positive impact in High Point. 

Lee Tillery, Director of High Point Parks & Rec, sits at a picnic table at the High Point Tennis Center.

Professionals all over our city make every aspect of High Point great – from number crunching, to greenway planning; from business consulting, to bike trail renovating; our city is full of people, like Lee, who make our city better.  

Discover our High Points, 

The HPD Team 

Photography by Anna Danielle Photography