Tom Presny ends 28 years maintaining parks in the City of Parks

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Gazette staff
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

JANESVILLE--Today is Tom Presny's last day as parks director in the City of Parks after more than 28 years.

“Every time I am out in the community and I see the city's tree logo over the statement, Wisconsin's Park Place, it causes me to beam with pride,” Presny said.

“I guess that pride translates to a level of responsibility to make sure that we hold ourselves high to the standard of being Wisconsin's Park Place.”

Presny, 57, started in November 1984. During his tenure, Janesville added 12 parks for a total of 66. Park acreage grew from 1,515 to 2,598, and the city took over care of Oak Hill Cemetery's 90 acres and its 25,000 graves.

Janesville earns is nickname because it has more parkland per capita than any other community in Wisconsin. It continues that commitment even as funding shrinks, Presny said.

Presny, whose father was Dane County's park director for 20 years, graduated from UW-Stevens Point in 1979 with a degree in resource management with a recreation focus.

 “I think it was the satisfaction of preserving lands, protecting areas, the natural resources, and then the interaction with the park users and residents,” he said of his decision to enter the field.

Some changes, accomplishments and events during his career include:

-- The creation of the Youth Sports Complex, 80 acres owned by the city but maintained by youth athletic groups. Presny said it is a “wonderful example of community partnership.”

-- The growth of Janesville's trail system, which began 20 years ago with two miles and now is 30.4 miles.

-- The 100-acre Northeast Regional Park—“a jewel for the future”—that gives the city a regional park in all four quadrants.

-- The growth of volunteer groups—currently 28—that have become necessary to help maintain the parks as budgets have shrunk.

 “It's always been a charge to try to be visible and accessible to the community to get the community involved in the parks system,” Presny said.

He credited the involvement of volunteers for making the parks what they are now.

-- The flood of 2008, during which Presny was charged with managing more than 60,000 sand bags.

“We had the carp going down Main Street,” he said.

He also recalled a wind sheer event that took down 200 trees in Traxler Park.

-- The emerald ash borer infestation, which will bring some “pretty dramatic changes,” Presny said.

Presny predicted residents would gain a greater appreciation for the Rock River as access is increased through downtown revitalization efforts.

“My goal has been to be visible, accessible and to listen to the community and the park user,” Presny said.

During his retirement, Presny expects to take advantage of what he played a part in creating: the trails and parks.

Presny's position is being advertised nationally.

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