Janesville41.4°

A vision to walk on: Former parks director honored for work

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Catherine W. Idzerda
August 16, 2011
— Long after Tom Kautz is gone, Rock County residents will be able to walk all over his legacy.

Thankfully, Kautz is still with us, still enjoying the parks and still remembered for his good nature and upbeat attitude.


In July, the Rock County Parks Division christened the Thomas G. Kautz Boardwalk and Nature trail at Beckman Mill Park. Kautz, who has been retired for seven years, was head of the parks division for almost three decades.


Kautz was honored for his vision, his dedication and his ability to work with everyone from county board members to friends groups.


He was also the one who wrote the grant for the improvements at Beckman Mill more than 10 years ago.


On a recent morning, Kautz stood at the center of the boardwalk, identifying birds and butterflies and enjoying the outdoors.


The boardwalk runs across a wetland, giving visitors a chance to see the birds, waterfowl and butterflies that depend on such an environment. It also links the main part of the park to the wooded area at its northern end.


“We’ve got tremendous potential here,” Kautz said. “The woods back there are on an island. The ground is only about two or three feet higher than the water; it’s just enough to keep the roots from being waterlogged.”


After Kautz retired, the work continued at Beckman Mill, sustained by subsequent parks division directors and friends groups.


“The grant included a lot of things,” Kautz said. “This trail and boardwalk were one of the last.”


Other items included parking lot improvements, fishing pier access, septic improvements and a well.


When Lori Williams took over as Rock County Parks Division director, she was determined to follow the work through.


Williams and Kautz had been colleagues for years, and he was delighted when she took the job. He continues to support her.


“While I was going through the projects, it just struck me how he just kept pushing and pushing to make this happen,” Williams said. “Knowing what he went through, and knowing what he had to do to keep it going—it’s just seemed like a natural fit to name the boardwalk after him.”


Williams proposed it to the county board committee that oversees her work, and they endorsed the idea. So did the full county board.


Sheri Disrud, president of the Friends of Beckman Mill, said she was delighted the county named the boardwalk after Kautz.


“He was really cordial, very easy to get along with—a real gentleman,” Disrud said. “He would confer with our group about projects to see if we liked his ideas. And he was always open to new ideas.”


Jan Knutson, president of the board of directors of the Welty Environmental Center, said the boardwalk and trail helped expand the park’s natural offerings.


“We have so many different habitats here,” Knutson said. “I know that they were making good use of the area during the second session of our day camp for kids.”


They were learning about wetlands—and walking all over Kautz’s work.



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