THE BLOG
03/31/2014 05:51 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2014

Our Business Is Fun: Video Interview with Santee Lakes Director of Park and Recreation Johnathan Skinner

The outdoor recreation industry is an economic powerhouse, employing over 6 million Americans and infusing both local and national economies with $646 billion dollars in outdoor recreation spending each year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association's 2012 Recreation Economy Report. Often under the radar, outdoor recreation is big business.

In this occasional Schmarder University series, "Our Business Is Fun," we'll meet an assortment of outdoor recreation industry leaders, learn about how their businesses serve the industry and its consumers, and talk trends in outdoor recreation.

Affectionately referred to as "San Diego's Best Backyard," Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve is an award-winning park providing locals and travelers alike a back-to-nature experience just outside the bustling seaside city. It's no wonder visitors love this park, with its seven lakes chock full of an abundance of several varieties of fish, a paved perimeter multi-use trail, playgrounds and spraygrounds, bike and boat rentals, Audubon-level bird watching, wedding and event pavilions, and more. RV travelers have full use of the park in addition to the RV-area amenities including the clubhouse and swimming pool/spa. Travelers that want a multi-day park experience without an RV can rent one of 10 cabins -- three of them floating on Lake 7.

There are not a lot of people who don't like to have a place to go to walk around or fish or camp. We're in the people business, and business is really good.

Among Santee's national awards and recognition is the Plan-It Green Award, recognizing the park's commitment to the environment. This should come as no surprise since the genesis of the park was converting wastewater to clean, usable water for irrigation and recreation. In 1961, federal and state public agencies studied Santee Lakes and the long-term benefits of water reclamation. Based upon that research, Santee Lakes has been recognized the world over as a successful model of reclaiming, cleaning and utilizing what would otherwise be "wastewater" for community betterment and enjoyment. In addition to the Padre Dam Municipal Water District Water Recycling Facility and the seven Santee lakes fed from Padre Dam, the park installed a four-acre, 14,000 solar panel project that produces over one million kilowatt hours of clean energy every year, equal to 50 percent of the park's power needs.

I found it incredibly interesting that in this day and age of public park funding reductions and closures, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve is not only self-funded but extremely profitable. Current annual visitor counts are upwards of 700,000 and growing and the innovative director of park and recreation, Johnathan Skinner, continues to expertly execute his vision of Santee Lakes becoming a "world-class facility."

Spend a few minutes with us as Skinner and I talk about the park and its programs, success and profitability with shimmering Lake 5 in the background.

Interested in hearing Skinner talk about a specific topic? Below the video you'll find a quick jump-to timeline.

Park history - 1:00
National awards - 4:35
Green, eco-initiatives - 5:37
Master plan for future park improvements - 7:45
Self-supporting facility - 8:53
Park visitorship - 10:10

Do you run an eco-friendly business? Have you found inspiration in Skinner's operation?

Are you surprised that a public park can be financially self-sustaining?

Let me know your thoughts on these questions and more in the comment section below.