As the longtime face of Amherst County’s Recreation and Parks Department, a fitting touch to Sara Lu Christian’s sendoff celebration was its outdoor setting.
She has spent the majority of her career urging residents to get outside and soak in Amherst County’s beauty and recreational assets. A parade of vehicles drove by the Monroe Community Center on Jan. 26 to honor Christian in her final week as the county’s parks and recreation director.
“It was a really nice tribute,” Christian said, in an interview afterward, of the honks, waves, smiles and happy moments shared. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Christian retired at the end of January from a position she held for 32 years. A Pittsburgh native who attended Virginia Commonwealth University, Christian worked 12 years in Northampton County’s parks and rec department, eventually becoming director, prior to beginning her tenure in Amherst in 1988.
She especially loved the Blue Ridge Mountains, the county’s scenic beauty, and the community spirit in Amherst, she said. “It was not so secluded,” she said of the change of scenery. “This was a nice balance.”
Central Virginia’s rich history and opportunities for various activities also were appealing. She describes Amherst County as a wealth of outdoor offerings with just more than a handful of parks and several trails. “I think Amherst County is becoming aware of its beauty and treasure,” Christian said.
Christian has been at the helm of the department as it operated out of a former funeral home on Second Street in Amherst, a past cottage that several years ago was demolished to make way for the new addition to the county administration building on Washington Street and the move to its current home at the Monroe Community Center.
She’s also served as two parks, Coolwell and Riveredge, were established along with the formation of the James River Heritage Trail, the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail and the Virginia Bird & Wildlife Trail. Working toward a healthy community, urging people to get outside and de-stress with activities and socializing has been rewarding, she said.
“What’s so addictive is to be a part of enhancing people’s lives,” Christian said of the recreation and parks department’s mission. “We want everyone to succeed.”
The department has nearly 60 community partnerships that help carry out a wide range of functions, programming and outreaches, she said. The need for recreation and activities is more important now than ever, according to Christian.
“This COVID pandemic has brought people outside and we’re getting more concentrated use of these parks, trails,” Christian said.
A major focus prior to the coronavirus disrupting everyday life since March was providing activities for seniors, including trips to destinations in the region and state. “They’re eager to get back together,” she said of senior citizens and their love for socializing.
The department also saved residents lots of money with discount tickets to theme parks and attractions, she said.
Claire Richardson, director of Nelson County Parks and Recreation, said she and Christian communicate often, especially in regard to the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail system that is located in both Nelson and Amherst counties. Richardson said she wishes Christian the best in her retirement.
“She is a true dedicated professional and Amherst County is a better place due to her service,” Christian said. “Oftentimes, recreation departments in rural localities face different challenges than big cities do. Sara Lu is a pioneer, and I value her contributions to our profession. I’m grateful to have worked with her during my time here in Nelson.”
Christian said she will miss the people and the close relationships the most, along with planning and networking. She won’t miss the concern on weather in putting events together.
She thanks all the staff and volunteers she has worked with over the years and said the county parks’ beauty and maintenance is a reflection of the public works department. Christian also praised county administration and the Amherst County Board of Supervisors for moving the county forward.
“Amherst County has a great future in store,” Christian said of the leadership. “Things are really opening up.”
Nelson County Times reporter Nick Cropper contributed.