By Raiza Giorgi

Leaving the Buellton Recreation Department after helping build it from nothing was hard for outgoing Recreation Center Coordinator Barbara Knecht, but she is looking forward to being closer to her grandchildren.

“I will miss the valley and this community because I have been a part of it for so long. My kids were raised here, but I want to do the same for my grandchildren … my husband and I decided to make the move,” she said.

Knecht has moved to a little community just outside Seattle, where her daughter Ashley Jones works for Pinterest. Knecht has started a job at a senior center there, basically doing what she did in Buellton.

“I am thrilled to be close to my grandchildren and get to do all the fun things with them as well. I know Buellton is in good hands,” she said.

Knecht and her family lived in the valley for more than 30 years and she, along with Recreation Supervisor Kyle Abello, started the Buellton Rec Department from scratch 11 years ago. She previously taught senior fitness and group exercise classes at the YMCA.

“We started with a room and nothing else, and have built it to include so many wonderful activities and healthy living options for the residents,” she said.

Knecht and Abello started piecing the recreation department together, slowly expanding it on the Jonata School campus. They installed a weight room and got the exercise equipment, hung the mirrors in the yoga room and tried to incorporate any activity they were asked for.

“People wanted to travel so we started day trips, which expanded into globetrotting. I have wonderful memories with great people from our many explorations all over,” she said.

She said some of her favorite trips were the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque and visiting Yellowstone National Park.

“We were asked to host an arts and crafts day, so we did. If someone had an idea, Kyle and I really tried our best to make it happen,” she said.

As Knecht said goodbye, Kristen Thomsen stepped in to fill the vacancy.

Buellton Recreation

Kristen Thomsen
Photo contributed

The former parks and rec director for Solvang said she took a hiatus to raise her children and volunteer at school and for other organizations, but now is excited to be back in parks and recreation work.

“I love the direction Fred Lageman has taken Solvang (parks and rec), and he’s really made it wonderful. I am excited to work with Kyle again as he used to be a camp counselor with us in Solvang way back when,” Thomsen said.

The Santa Ynez Valley native said she is honored to continue Knecht’s work focusing on senior fitness and health and wellness programs.

Thomsen also wants to start new projects, such as a teen employment focus where teens can learn how to write a résumé, learn basic office skills, and learn how to interview for a job. Then the teens can gain a certificate of completion and take their new skills into the workforce.

Thomsen encourages anyone who has an idea for recreation to email her or Abello at