Brookings native climbing ranks at GFP

Courtesy photo: Brookings native Scott Simpson is now director of the Parks and Recreation division of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

Scott Simpson now leads Parks and Recreation division for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

BROOKINGS – Scott Simpson was always active growing up in Brookings. Now he’s director of the Parks and Recreation division at South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks. 

“It’s just a new challenge,” Simpson said of the job that will move him over to a different division where he’ll be learning new stuff and working with a group of people he calls “top-notch.”

After 15 years at GF&P, he doesn’t want to shake things up. He just wants “to build on what other people before me have put in place.”

He learned early the worth of building on tradition.

Starting in Brookings

A 1987 graduate of Brookings High School, Simpson spent a lot of time playing sports, including baseball, hockey and tennis, going to the state tournament in tennis his junior and senior years. 

“Our baseball teams back then were really competitive,” he said, adding he played on Legion baseball teams that went to state every year.

He left Brookings to play baseball at Northwest Missouri State but injured his arm after one year and decided to not return.

Instead of going back to college, he went to work, taking a job with Pam Oil in Sioux Falls.

“I just started on their night shift there and eventually worked my way up to regional operations manager,” Simpson said.

During that time, he met his future wife, Linette.

“We’ll be married 20 years on May 1,” he said.

With marriage came the decision to go back to school and get his degree, so he went to the University of Sioux Falls and earned a degree in business management. Shortly after, he took the job of license supervisor with GF&P. 

“Been in Pierre for 15 years now,” Simpson said.

Career with GF&P

As license supervisor, he helped the agents who sold hunting and fishing licenses. 

“My first job when I came to the department was to put everything online” since the agents used to write the entries down in paper books, Simpson said, and he was in charge of all the big game drawings, too.

That job lasted five years, then he became the administrative resources section chief with the wildlife division, which he’s held the past 10 years. He was responsible for all of the statewide programs: education, federal aid, licensing, geographical information system and “a bunch of budgeting stuff.”

“For the last eight years or so, I’ve also been one of the department lobbyists, so during the legislative session, I’m over in the capital, working on Game, Fish & Parks issues,” Simpson said.

Eye on another job

There are three divisions at GF&P: administrative, which is the business wing with accounting and budgeting; wildlife, which allocates licenses and does hunting and fishing regulations; and parks and recreation, which manages all the parks and rec areas. Each division has its own director, and each director answers to the department secretary, Kelly Hepler.

About three years ago, the position of head of parks and recreation was open. It went to Katie Ceroll, but when it was open, Simpson expressed interest in it. When Ceroll took another job, Hepler asked Simpson if he still had interest in it. 

“I, of course, said I did,” he said.

“I lead the second biggest division,” Simpson said, noting there’s 150 full-time employees, and a budget around $39 million.

“As summer kicks off our camping season, we’re gonna swell to about 800-900 employees,” Simpson said.

Overseeing the parks and recreation division means managing those employees, the budget, working with outside user groups to provide campers with the services they use at the state parks, planning and construction of new development, and maintaining the infrastructure that’s in place.

“That’s a huge responsibility for us, just management of the facilities that we have,” Simpson said.

He’s moving to a new division and learning new job responsibilities, but he’s looking forward to it. 

“It’s something that really excites me,” Simpson said, especially getting to know his new co-workers.

“They are as top-notch a crew as I think that there is in the nation when it comes to state parks and recreation. They are passionate about what they do. They are dedicated, and I just feel like this is a great opportunity to jump in and work with a great group of folks,” Simpson said.

He doesn’t plan to make big changes.

“We have a really strong tradition of quality service and quality products in the state park system, so I’m not coming over to try to change anything. I’m just looking to build on that tradition,” Simpson added. 

Changes for family

He and Linette have three kids, Annabelle, Ellie Jo and Charlie, ranging from a senior in high school to a sixth-grader. All are active in sports, like their dad was, and the family all enjoys the outdoors. They bought Linette’s family farm in Perkins County to make sure the kids have the outdoor opportunities for a long time to come.

“Hunting and fishing and other outdoor opportunities have always been a very big part of our lives. They understand what Dad does, and what Dad does bleeds over into our personal life, as well,” Simpson said.

Unfortunately, what Dad does now is a lot of traveling to get up to speed with his new job.

Last week, he was driving to Chamberlain where he planned to be for three days, then for the next two, he was going to be in the northwest corner of the state, going down to Rapid City.

“That’s kind of what my schedule looks like for the next three weeks. Just a ton of travel and getting out seeing the sights and meeting the staff that we have in different areas,” Simpson said, pointing out that at least it’s all in-state.

Looking back and forward

As he nears his 50th birthday this year, he appreciates where he came from and where he’s going.

“Brookings has always been my home; that’s where I consider home,” Simpson said. 

“I always enjoy my time when I get to come back there, and I don’t get to do it near enough,” he said, adding he plans to visit over the summer and see old friends. “It’s always a joy to get back.”

But before he can take a vacation, he’s got a lot to learn.

“My main focus is just to learn right now and to keep doing what we’re doing because I believe it’s as good as any parks system in the nation,” Simpson said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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