A native of Fayetteville, Barefoot graduated from Terry Sanford High School and East Carolina University. His first recreation job in 1975 was as a summer part-timer in Fayetteville, working with the Summer Fun Caravans. This program took recreation into neighborhoods in a colorfully painted U-Haul trailer. That same year he became director of the Harnett County recreation department in what he called a “one-man operation.” Following that he moved to the town of Wake Forest and returned to his hometown as parks superintendent in March of 1983. Five years later he became the department director.
“I didn’t intentionally work at coming back to Fayetteville, but that’s how it turned out and it’s been a good career,” he said.
There have been many changes since he has been at the helm. He noted the replacement recreation centers that were built in the mid-1990s, the renovation of Myers Recreation Center, the Cape Fear River Trail, Linear Park, Festival Park, the Transportation Museum, additional neighborhood parks, athletic fields and playgrounds. The school-park partnerships created opportunities for recreation by constructing centers on school property (often co-located with a school) in exchange for meeting space and physical education classes, according to Barefoot.
Clark Park and Nature Center on Sherman Drive off Ramsey Street is one project that he believes put the department on the right track. He said the park had a poor image in the community and a reputation as a bad area for crime and drug use. The park became one of the gems of Fayetteville’s system with the early 1990s construction of the Nature Center and staffing with park rangers who created displays, programs and camps, he added.
On July 1, 2004 the city and county parks and recreation departments consolidated, becoming Fayetteville-Cumberland Parks and Recreation and Barefoot was named director. There are currently 18 recreation centers that include two senior citizen facilities and one dedicated to therapeutic recreation. There are approximately 765 acres of parks and open space throughout the city and county. In reflecting on his career with the City he said, “No one person gets it all done. It’s a team effort and we have a good team at Parks & Recreation.”
City Manager Dale Iman said, “Robert should be extremely proud of the accomplishments of the Parks and Recreation Department during his watch. Throughout his career he has been dedicated and fully committed to the goal of improving the parks and recreational opportunities for the residents of Fayetteville.”
Barefoot said he will miss many people he has worked with over the years including advisory board members, Milton Mazarick, Ronnie Chalmers and Harry Shaw, all of whom had an impact on the department, and many other citizen advocates that have been part of the team that helped create and continue the growth of the department.
“I have loved working with people of vision, commitment and passion,” Barefoot added.
Barefoot said he plans to stay in Fayetteville after retiring. There are other things he is interested in doing when he no longer works full time, such as volunteering, traveling and outdoor projects. He would like to see the national parks and spend time with his family, including his new grandchild. He has things to do and places to go while he is he is still young and healthy, he added.