Josh Cleveland '13

District Park Supervisor 

Josh Cleveland '13
District Park supervisor of pelican lake recreational area in Watertown, sd
degree: bachelor of arts in recreational management
campus: Yankton 

Working for the Great Outdoors: Dream Job for Josh Cleveland

With a recreation management degree from Mount Marty College, Josh Cleveland ’13 finds that work and passion can be one in the same.

For as long as he can remember, Josh Cleveland ’13 has always felt most at home in the great outdoors.

“I knew that when I grew up, I wanted a profession that had anything to do with the outdoors,” he says. “I loved to hunt, fish, camp, you name it.”

A native of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Cleveland transferred to Mount Marty College (MMC) after two years at Itasca Community College, where he played for the baseball team and studied forest resources. Andy Bernatow, MMC Baseball head coach, started recruiting Cleveland for the Lancers during his second year at Itasca, and after learning about the college’s recreation management program, Cleveland was hooked.

“I thought Mount Marty was the place,” he says. “It was the perfect storm of the recreation management program and the baseball program — and the excellent hunting and fishing opportunities in close proximity to the school.”

Today, Cleveland is the district part supervisor at Pelican Lake Recreation Area, a South Dakota State Park in Watertown known for its cross-country ski trails, snowshoeing and ice fishing, as well as the impressive array of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds that spend time on its open waters. In many ways, it’s a dream job for Cleveland, who spent his youth imagining a career where work and passions collide. In less than four years since his graduation, he’s moved up the career ladder at an almost unheard of rate. It’s hard work and dedication, Cleveland says, along with his MMC education, that put him on the path to success.

“Had I not gone to Mount Marty, I might be in the woods somewhere measuring trees and talking to myself,” he says with a laugh.

Drive — and the Push — to Succeed

Although Cleveland’s passion for the outdoors has always been clear, it was a push from Dr. Erin Riibe, MMC assistant professor of recreation management, that really encouraged him to take his education, and career, to the next level.

“It was a great combination of things he did for me that helped get me where I am today,” Cleveland says. “I was able to spend time with him learning about different recreation career fields, as well as visiting with him on our common passion for the outdoors. If he wouldn’t have pushed me to my internship with the South Dakota State Parks, I would not be where I am today.”  

That internship made connections for Cleveland that led to an assistant park manager position at Snake Creek Recreation Area outside of Platte, South Dakota, soon after graduation. While there, Cleveland worked with four recreation areas situated along the Missouri River.

"To me, it was a dream job,” he says. “What better way to spend my time working in the outdoors, doing something different every day and literally working with happy campers?”

Ten months into the Snake Creek job, a park manager position opened up for Pelican Lake. As much as he loved his work at Snake Creek, Cleveland knew it was a great opportunity to advance his career while getting closer to native Minnesota. Although it usually takes years to move from an assistant park manager to park manager position, Cleveland got the job.

“While I was at Snake Creek, I put my education and ideas to use while working very hard there, and it paid off immensely,” Cleveland says.        

At Pelican Lake, Cleveland suddenly found himself in charge of day-to-day operations for three recreation areas and supervising 13 employees and three sets of campground volunteers. When his supervisor accepted another position, only a year after Cleveland began at Pelican Lake, Cleveland was chosen to fill his shoes.

“I’m learning new things every day,” he says. “I’m also finding some things I’m ‘learning’ that I already learned at Mount Marty in my recreation management and business classes. In fact, I look back on the classes I had at Mount Marty, and, for the most part, I use something in my position from each and every one of them.”

Future Growth

As Cleveland looks toward the future, he’s excited about the possibility of continued career growth and new opportunities, but he’s also grateful to be exactly where he is.

“As a district park supervisor, I get to make the decisions for the parks’ future, submit and do the projects I want to do and shape the parks how I want them,” he says. “I also have a great balance of office time and time spent outdoors working in the parks. It really is a dream job.”

Still, he’s intrigued by the possibility of transferring to other districts in the future and getting the chance to experience the beauty of new surroundings, as well as hunting and fishing opportunities nearby.

“I can see myself at the district supervisor level for quite a while and someday making the jump to regional park supervisor,” he says. “A great regional supervisor can really make a difference. That’s exactly what I want to do and have been trying to do my whole career — make a difference.”

MMC’s recreation management major is offered through the college’s Department of Education.