Local parks made extra special

Lauded landscape architect pours his imagination into area projects

CREATIVE—Landscape architect Douglas Duran sits on a wall decorated by mosaic tiles painted by kids at an RSRPD park. It was his idea to use the tiles. MICHELE WILLER-ALLRED Acorn Newspapers

CREATIVE—Landscape architect Douglas Duran sits on a wall decorated by mosaic tiles painted by kids at an RSRPD park. It was his idea to use the tiles. MICHELE WILLER-ALLRED Acorn Newspapers

Landscape architect and designer Douglas Duran’s abundant creativity is available for all to see in Simi Valley and Oak Park.

Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District officials and residents alike agree that his special touches and mindful attention to detail help make local parks and recreation facilities special.

That’s one of the many reasons Duran, 62, has been recognized so many times during his almost 22 years in the district’s planning and maintenance department.

Duran has been named the district’s Employee of the Month a record seven times. He reached that milestone at a board meeting June 1 when he received his latest award plaque and a paid day off. He was praised for his creativity, his upbeat disposition and for being well-educated on district matters and the “go-to person” in his department.

“He always has a smile on his face. He’s always willing to lend a hand and has a great attitude,” said Theresa Pennington, the district’s director of administration, who read his nomination paper.

“I’m a team player. I like to help. Even if it’s not in my job description, I just do it. It’s just helping another human being,” Duran said.

Duran said that it was his mom, Ana, known to plant every seed she found, who instilled in him a love for landscaping, plants and gardening.

He recalled trying to register for Cal Poly Pomona’s architect program as a student and being told he would have to wait another year because the program was full.

That’s when Duran noticed the landscape architect’s office.

“I looked into (jobs there) and I was really jazzed because it was a combination of being inside the office and outside,” Duran said. “Once I got into it, I loved it.”

Today he works as a landscape architect/designer at Rancho Simi. Over the years, he’s helped relocate the historic colony house and barbershop, reassembling them to their historic condition, and enhancing the garden at the old St. Rose of Lima Church at Strathearn Historical Park.

Duran created the sculpture of retired basketball player Don MacLean on the courts at Rancho Simi Community Park. In addition, he designed the two coyotes at Coyote Hills Park.

In 2008, he oversaw construction of the 3.3-acre Vista del Arroyo Park, which he calls a “labor of love.”

For the $1.1 million park, Duran conceptualized a display featuring ceramic tiles that kids in the community painted and added their signatures to before the tiles were embedded in the park’s seating wall.

Though most of his work has been in Simi, Duran said he’s worked on several key projects in Oak Park, including playground renovations at Chaparral and Mae Boyar parks, the gardens at Oak Park Community Center and Gardens, and the replacement of fire-damaged posts and cables.

Duran tries to instill a sense of art and community in all projects.

“The idea is to have the community involved so they feel like the park belongs to them and will take care of it,” Duran said.

In addition to using his creative talents to beautify parks and facilities, Duran is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

He said one of the most challenging projects he worked on was project manager for the cleanup of the lagoon at Rancho Simi Community Park. He also recently dug deep into the mud to help remove and relocate turtles from a drained lagoon at Oak Park Community Park in preparation for the lagoon’s restoration.

Duran continues to work on the five phases of the Arroyo Simi Greenway Project, and is the key project manager for the design of the district’s new headquarters at 4201 Guardian St.

Every day is a new day for Duran, and he relishes seeing other employees express enthusiasm for the job.

“The thing I admire in an individual is to have passion for what they do,” Duran said. “I’d rather have one person that has passion than 100 that don’t have it.”

His colleagues, too, enjoy his passion for the job.

Elaine Freeman, district board co-director, said people like Duran make the parks special. The district, she said, is fortunate to have him working on the creative side.

“The playgrounds he helped to design are creative and fun, and that’s why they are favorites for my own kids and many others,” said board co-director Brian Dennert.

Duran said he’s constantly learning on the job.

“Sometimes when you’re driving, you think, ‘Oh my, I haven’t seen that plant. What is it?’ The curiosity always gets to you and sometimes it ends up in one of your designs,” he said.

Duran lives in Shadow Hills with his wife, Laura. They have two children: Xiomara, 26, and Julian, 24.

In his spare time, he enjoys working on hobbies, including stained glass, painting and ceramics, as well as hiking and biking.

Duran also thinks about the future, especially about the environment.

“I really think that as humans we really need to start being more aware of every action that we do because for every action there is a reaction,” he said. “If we aren’t in tune with nature and the issues we are dealing with, there won’t be an Earth for future generations to enjoy.”

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