Member Biography

Karen Hesser

Karen is the Chief Executive Officer for Five Rivers MetroParks, in Dayton, Ohio. Karen oversees more than 300 employees who protect and maintain 16,500 acres of parkland in a district with more than 500,000 residents.  The agency’s mission is also to connect people with nature.

Karen has enjoyed more than 40 years in the parks and recreation profession having begun her career with Chester County Parks and Recreation Department in Pennsylvania, and held positions including Chief Park Ranger, Regional Park Superintendent, and Assistant Director during her 27 years with the County.

She moved to Glendale, Arizona as a Deputy Director for the Parks and Recreation Department for six years before moving to Dayton in 2012.  Karen served as the Chief of Operations and the Director of Park Services and Legislative Affairs at Five Rivers Metro Parks prior to becoming CEO.

As a member of the American Academy for Parks and Recreation Administration Karen has helped to mentor professionals through the Academy, as well as over the years of her career. Karen has presented numerous sessions at local, state, and national conferences since 1996, including the keynote speaker for the Mentorship Program at the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association conference in 2019. Karen has been active in the National Recreation and Park Association, serving as a Certified Agency Accreditation Visitor for the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA) since 2008. She also served on the NRPA National Forum, the NRPA National Awards Committee, the NRPA National Diversity Committee, the APRS Board of Directors, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council. Karen recently became a member of the National Association of Park Foundation’s Advisory Council.

Karen is involved in the local community too where she serves on the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, Miami Valley Regional Disaster Recovery for Jurisdictions Committee, Rotary Club of Dayton, Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts of America Miami Valley Council, and the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery community outreach committee.

Karen has a Bachelor of Science degree in Parks and Recreation, Resource Management from Slippery Rock University; and has served on the Board of Regents for the North Carolina State University/National Recreation and Park Association Maintenance Management School in Wheeling, WV since 1997.

Karen is an avid Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies fan; never met a national park or world travel adventure she didn’t want to explore; and enjoys hiking, the theater, and spending time laughing with good friends and family.  [current as of June 2023]