After more than 17 years in New Richmond as the director of parks and recreation, Joe Kerlin is ready to see if the park grass is greener in a different city.
Kerlin has been hired as the superintendent of parks and forestry for the City of Sheboygan, a Wisconsin city of 50,000 people along the shores of Lake Michigan.
A North Dakota native, Kerlin came to New Richmond after a brief stint as aquatics manager in Ada, Minn. When he accepted the local job, he was in charge of parks, recreation and the city-owned aquatic center.
"The aquatics took a lot of my time," he said, noting that he eventually gave up those responsibilities in 2004-05 when the YMCA took over the operation of the local fitness and recreation center.
From that point forward, Kerlin spent more time with parks, trails and recreation. He added urban forestry to his job duties in 2006.
During his tenure locally, a lot has been accomplished in terms of the development of parks and trails.
When he started his job in New Richmond, the city's trail system consisted of the one-mile Rail Bridge Trail and a trail along Somerset Road. Today there is about 11 miles of trails throughout the community.
Kerlin said the Pathways Committee in New Richmond has been a driving force behind the continued development of the system.
"They meet monthly and they have been a great group to work with," he said.
Kerlin noted that even more trails are in the works, including the Doughboy Trail that will finally link the north and south trails systems.
"It's going to be a gem, with the added beauty of the river," he said.
As for parks development, Kerlin has been involved with the emerging Freedom Park facility, as well as Woodland Creek, Paperjack Nature Way and the Doar Prairie Restoration Park, during his years guiding the department.
He said he always felt like community leaders valued parks and trails and provided the support needed.
"The Park Board has put a lot of work into new developments," Kerlin said. "And the City Council has always had a great outlook on making sure they are providing recreation for the citizens of the city. I always felt that parks and trails were always high on their priority list."
He said he's excited that the soon-to-be-opened dog park will likely be a reality before he leaves his job on July 19. And he has high hopes that Freedom Park will eventually be an amazing facility that people across the region can enjoy, thanks to the partnerships developed with the American Legion, VFW and youth sports groups.
"Working closely with other groups ... that's the fun part," Kerlin commented. "There are so many people who are go-getters who make things happen."
Kerlin said he's also appreciated working with all of the city staff, who have aided him in a variety of ways through the years.
"I've relied on them all and appreciate their willingness to work with the parks department," he said.
Kerlin has also been very involved in the community in other ways. He was among the second graduating class of the Leadership Trust Initiative, and he was involved in the city's Front Porch Initiative from its inception.
Two years ago he served as president of the New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and he was a founding member of the community's Vitality Initiative.
"This community just has so much to offer, and we've always enjoyed that," he said. "I've enjoyed New Richmond, and I will miss working with the people that I've gotten to know. But now it's time for a new chapter. I'm very excited for a new chapter in my life."
As he starts his new job in Sheboygan, Kerlin will be switching from a department where he supervised three full-time employees to one with 12 full-time employees. He will also be guiding parks and forestry activities for a community of 50,000, compared to about 8,000 in New Richmond.
Another big difference will be maintaining and caring for Sheboygan's major beach on Lake Michigan, Kerlin said, which is part of the parks system.
Kerlin and his wife will be putting their house on the market, with the hope of moving east by the end of the summer or early fall.