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January 29, 2012

Meet Your Government: Dan Mahon

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Dan Ashby Mahon
Dan Mahon
Dan Mahon

Outdoor Recreation Supervisor, Albemarle County

Where were you born (and raised, if different)?

Born in the former backwoods of Fauquier County Virginia but soon after my family and I floated downstream to the Bay and we washed ashore on sandy strip of salt marsh at a place called Grandview Island, Hampton, Virginia. I have relations that go back to dust in Virginia and I am never surprised when I run into a distant cousin.

When and why did you move to the Charlottesville/Albemarle area?

After graduate school I tried to leave Virginia but at the border I was repeatedly turned back by the ghosts of those ancestors mentioned above and ….so in 1993 I finally gave up all notions of moving to Tibet, Tahiti or Tallahassee and decided not to carry my heart out of old Virginny. And further reinforcing my decision to stay was a recollection of something I learned from my 4th grade Virginia History book. There I was taught that it was in Virginia that the Cradle of Western Civilization rocked and here somewhere between the James and Rivanna Rivers and below the Blue Ridge Mountains was the spiritual center of all that…..so it seemed to me that the right place was not far from where I was. 

What neighborhood do you live in now?

I currently live in one of the 1950’s era neighborhoods in Crozet.

Family (spouse, kids, etc)?

My wife Jan is currently the Director of the Arboretum at JMU. Our daughter Alanna is dancing and artfully working her way through her senior year at Western. And our son Marsh is an EMT proudly serving on the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad, and contributes the local music scene.  

What is your alma mater and when did you graduate?

I received a Masters of Landscape Architecture in 1993 from Virginia Tech. My research area was recreational design for special populations (elderly and disabled folks) in National Forest settings.

What were you doing before coming to the county government?

I was a serious occupational adventurer with a diverse and colorful background….but just before coming to work for the County I was working to develop a Landscape Design practice with a focus on Healing or Therapeutic Landscapes. The Garden behind the JABA facility on Hillsdale Dr. was one of my most visible projects. It was an ambitious project designed to serve the special needs of Alzheimer sufferers, frail elderly and small children in a multigenerational day care setting.     

Your job title is Outdoor Recreation Supervisor – what, in your own words, would you say you do?

I work in multi various ways to meet our community’s desire for access to nice places with cool things to do. This includes parks as well as greenway/blueway and trail corridor development. I participate in the development of both regional and small scale planning and design activities. I negotiate and acquire easements and property that make up the greenway corridors. I work with user groups to reach agreeable outcomes to multi-use conflicts. I co-ordinate, train, and lead volunteers to help build and maintain park facilities, mentor Eagle Scouts, make maps and graphics, and write grants applications. I serve on various boards and work closely with many citizen interest groups related to recreational land use.

What is the best part of your job?

To discover and work to reveal the beauty or unique character of a place and then seeing folks out there using, caring for and safely enjoying that place.

The most difficult part?

Pulling together a greenway system that crosses many properties while not condemning a single one is a process that has taken longer and been far more complex than I would have thought when I started it.

How does your job most directly impact the average person?

If you want to run like a deer through the woods; If you want to see a deer in the woods; If you want to sit like a rock by a lake or float unlike a rock on a lake; If you suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder or are hypertensive, or depressed or too happy to stand still; If you want to paddle, peddle, flip or fly; If you need two trees for your hammock and a quiet place under the sky; If you want to read or maybe even write a book…see a fish or possibly catch and taste a fish…my job with our parks was probably involved in one way or another.   

What is the most interesting project or work experience that you’ve had while with the county?

Before I came to work with parks, I served in a couple roles for the County’s Department of Community Development. During that time I helped a citizen resolve a complicated subdivision problem that involved protecting a place on the property where a bunch of fairies were living. I took her concerns seriously and we developed a workable solution and as far as I know the wee people are in a good place.

What is a little known fact about you?

I lied to some clowns one time.

I had a job as a photographer for an “International Clown and Mime Conference” attended by very important and very serious clowns and mimes. Wasn’t long before I ran out of film, but given the nature of the event, I continued shooting pictures…flash … moving in…and around the group... getting real close interesting shots from odd angles. When asked later about the pictures, I had to tell a sad story of a dark room accident that verged on slap stick. Through my work with the event I was able to attend a few workshops. It was fun, being in a class full of class clowns.

What do you do outside of work hours – hobbies, etc?

Beyond all the loving parent and family jazz…I turn junk into musical art, I play at music and play with words. I invent different ways to sail my kayaks…I hike and hammock and hunt with my camera. I am a hunter gatherer type that likes to look at things in nature and then eat them…burdock, berries, morels, and things like that.

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