Lake Country Faces: Nisswa woman’s career path was set as a toddler
Parks and recreation director promotes mental, physical health
Amber Moon Peterson was destined to have a career in parks and recreation.
“My family kind of jokes that I started my career when I was a toddler,” said Moon Peterson, who became Nisswa’s parks and recreation director in October 2020, after following a path that took her on adventures to Alaska, South America and Utah.
"I played sports. My summer jobs were all for the city in the parks department. I always worked somewhere with park and rec."
— Amber Moon Peterson
Her father was the longtime parks and recreation director in Hutchinson who recently retired. So Moon Peterson went from crawling around on the floor at parks and rec classes to helping pick out playground equipment from a magazine with her dad.
“I played sports. My summer jobs were all for the city in the parks department. I always worked somewhere with park and rec,” she said.
Moon Peterson attended Minnesota State University in Mankato for a degree in the parks and recreation field, specializing in leisure planning and management. Her siblings took similar directions as well - her brother is a mountain guide and her sister does urban planning and design.
College internships showed Moon Peterson the various opportunities her field offered. First, she took youth around the Yukon and Alaska on an educational trip. Then she worked for the Navy in Key West, Florida, planning programs for single sailors.
“I like traveling. I love outside,” she said, so she took advantage of the different opportunities that turned up.
She graduated from college in 2008, when there weren’t many jobs to be had. Moon Peterson wasn’t ready to sit behind a desk, so she moved to Utah where she worked in wilderness therapy with teens who had behavioral and emotional disorders.
That job taught her the value of both physical and mental health.
"Mental health, physical health - whatever people need to improve their quality of life has been a theme through the diverse jobs."
— Amber Moon Peterson
A unique schedule had her working every other week. While working with the teens, they lived under tarps, cooked on a fire and hiked with a compass in the wilderness.
“It was a very rustic, natural environment,” Moon Peterson said.
On her weeks off, she was able to travel to different national parks out west and snowboard in the winter.
Moon Peterson worked for two years in the wilderness, and then for another two years in the office as a logistics coordinator.
Her adventures also included volunteering in a national park in South America, in Patagonia, Chile.
In 2013, Moon Peterson returned to Minnesota and got her personal training certification. She worked for a year and a half at Life Time Fitness in the Twin Cities as a personal trainer, where she worked one-on-one with people and in small group fitness, as well as helped people with weight loss and nutrition.
“Mental health, physical health - whatever people need to improve their quality of life has been a theme through the diverse jobs,” she said, adding she enjoys being part of people’s transformations.
“You’re riding the ride with them because you have that ongoing interaction through some pivotal transformations in their lives,” she said, noting it’s both rewarding and stressful. “You got all the feels with them.”
She met her husband, Shawn Peterson, while working at Life Time Fitness. They didn’t stay in the Twin Cities for long.
“The only way I’m staying in Minnesota is if we go north,” Moon Peterson said, so they ventured north to Nisswa in 2015.
She’d been to the lakes area when visiting her husband’s family cabin in Nisswa and a college friend’s place. Moon Peterson worked at the Hallett Community Center in Crosby for five years as a fitness specialist and then as general manager before opting for a shorter commute when the parks and recreation director position in Nisswa opened and she applied.
She’d served on the city’s Parks Commission for a year and half starting in 2019.
Moon Peterson enjoys the opportunity to “get her hands dirty again” working outside with parks and trails, as well as the different challenges of a smaller staff but bigger projects.
She hopes to get a better understanding of what the community wants while being responsible with taxpayer dollars, keeping equipment and amenities safe, and providing services and creative programs people are interested in.
“We’re definitely trying to provide diverse activities as best we can at a reasonable price point for people,” she said.
A goal is to bring her passions to her job.
“Ultimately, I just want other people to have whatever improves their quality of life,” Moon Peterson said. “I want to help provide those experiences to people to have with friends and family.”
She reiterated the importance of both physical and mental health, being outside and being with people you like.
“I think we’ve all learned that time is precious,” she said.
Living in the community where she works, her family - which includes 2-year-old Layna - makes use of Nisswa’s amenities, including walking the family dog through the park downtown.
“We’re frequent flyers at the park. And now she looks through my magazines,” Moon Peterson said, recalling when she did the same with her dad.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.