Alan McKnight, director of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, is retiring after 38 years of service.

Alan McKnight, director of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, is retiring after 38 years of service.

"I never would have thought I would have been here" through 2015, he said. "If you would have asked me if I would have been here 38 years, I would have laughed."

A fresh-faced graduate with a degree in landscape architecture from Ohio State University, McKnight worked for the Franklin County MetroParks in college.

A friend suggested he apply for an opening in Columbus, so he did, all the while thinking he would get a job at a private planning firm.

McKnight started in the planning section, designing parks and such, and eventually took over the office.

His final day is May 31. The city is accepting applications for his replacement through noon April 1.

The nine-member Columbus Recreation and Parks Commission officially will appoint McKnight's replacement. The city has received more than 35 applications from 11 different states, said Jeffrey McNealey, president of the parks commission. The commission is expected to name Mcknight's successor by early May, McNealey said.

"Our goal is hire a world-class parks administrator with great vision to reflect the fact that Columbus is the 15th-largest city (in the U.S) with a very well-developed and sophisticated park system," he said.

McNealey said he was approached several months ago by McKnight about the director's planned retirement.

"It was an unpleasant surprise but one, for his reasons, we had to respect, particularly after 38 years of good service," McNealey said.

McKnight said the job has had its share of triumphs and challenges.

During his time, expanding the trails system and opening new recreation centers are among the department's biggest accomplishments, McKnight said.

However, when the city was on unstable financial footing, the department closed 12 recreation centers and some pools in 2009.

After voters approved Mayor Michael B. Coleman's request to raise the city's income tax to 2.5 percent, the facilities eventually were reopened.

One thing the city hasn't pursued beyond the discussion phase was the building of family recreation centers, which would have been about double the size and with more amenities than current rec centers, which are about 25,000 square feet on average.

McKnight said he doesn't want to build them and run out of money to keep them open.

"We have some areas that are underserved," he said.

"It is a valid concept and we will take another look at it."

McKnight, who considers himself a political independent, has worked for both Democrat and Republican administrations. He said he's a huge supporter of "Mayor Coleman and the council there right now."

"I really enjoyed the city, what was accomplished and the direction it's going," he said.

McKnight, 61, moved to Columbus in the eighth grade, when his father, then a reporter for the Associated Press, was transferred to central Ohio. They settled in Clintonville. McKnight graduated from Whetstone High School in 1972.

McKnight and his wife of 40 years, Kathy, live in Worthington.