WEST CHESTER — The new director of the Chester County Department of Open Space Preservation knows a little about paradise. She finds herself back on the mainland after spending years in Hawaii.
The weather is not the only thing different as Brianne Zanin takes up her new post. The temperature on her old turf, the island of Maui will be 78 degrees, with a passing shower. Tomorrow it will be 77 degrees, with the chance of a shower. On Friday, calming breezes will bring in a high of 72, with some brief showers in the forecast. On Saturday … well, you get the idea.
Zanin, who until last year was a resident of the so-called Valley Isle of Hawaii, at least won't have to deal with the Polar Vortex that gripped the region last week. From her new home in West Whiteland, and as she starts her fourth full day Thursday as director of Chester County’s Department of Open Space Preservation, the weather is much more hospitable than last week's bitter cold snap.
All the better perhaps for a trip on Friday from her office in West Goshen to one of the stretches of land saved by the county’s land conservation strategy, maybe out ChesLen Preserve way. On Saturday, she and her husband, T.J. Zanin, might take in his old West Chester University Golden Rams men’s basketball squad at Hollinger Field House as they begin wrapping up the PSAC schedule.
Brianne Zanin was named director of the open space office late last month in an announcement by the three county commissioners, filling the vacancy created by the resignation last year of Bill Gladden, who went to head the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust. Until last year, she served as the head of Maui’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
“The parks director serves at the will of the mayor of Maui,” Zanin explained in an interview last week. Knowing the mayor term was up and looking for a new challenge, she and her husband decided to relocate from the island they had called home for some time back to “the mainland.”
“He’s from this area,” Zanin said of her husband, who grew up in Delaware County and attended WCU from 1994 to 1998, starting on the basketball team for three years. (T.J. Zanin has worked for several years as a scout for USA Basketball and a number of NBA teams.)
And even though she recalls with fondness the unique environment of Maui – tropical rainforest here, desert-like conditions there, volcanic mountains overlooking it all — she expressed enthusiasm for getting to know the lay of the land in the county as she tackles the commissioners' goal of reaching a new plateau in land preservation.
“It is an exciting environment to be in,” she said. “And it is exciting to be part of a process and a community that is so forward-looking” about saving open space from development.
The commissioners have said that they expect to reach the preservation milestone of 30 percent of the county’s acreage in 2019, up from its current 28 percent.
As open space director, Zanin will oversee eight full time employees and be responsible for a budget of $623,000 — plus the annual allocation of $10 million in county tax dollars for open space — leading the department in its strategic effort to preserve agricultural land, municipal parks, trails, greenways and other land preservation projects. Zanin will make $91,762 a year in the post.
During her time in Maui, she oversaw 142 county parks spanning more than 2,500 acres, a $30 million annual operating budget and $12-$40 million capital budget, and overseeing the performance management of more than 275 full-time and 400 part-time employees.
Commenting on the appointment, the three commissioners issued a joint welcome, saying, “Brianne’s experience with the County of Maui includes the development of the first strategic plan for the department of Parks and Recreation, as well as the creation of a master plan that provided immediate-to-long term direction for the department.
“This understanding and knowledge is vital to the role of director of open space preservation and we are confident that Brianne will guide the department — and the county — as it seeks to reach the goal of preserving 30 percent of Chester County’s land by the end of this year.”
Zanin is originally from Idaho and grew up in the north-central panhandle in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Zanin holds a bachelor’s degree in Sport Management from Missouri Baptist University and is a graduate of the National Recreation & Parks Director’s School. She is a member of the National Association of Counties, the National Recreation and Parks Association and the International City/County Management Association.
In the interview, Zanin said she expects to spend a significant portion of her time in the next few months exploring the county, “getting a sense of the properties that have been preserved, and the ones that are on the immediate horizon. The first six months are going to be spent meeting a lot of people, and physically seeing the lay of the land. I’m a boots-on-the-ground sort of person.”
As for the particular sort of “climate change” that Zanin will be faced with in the winter and spring months, she stresses that she’s used to it, having grown up in the cold and snow of winters out west.
“But those 10 years on Maui, with temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees every day …,” she mused. “You can get used to it.”