Brooklyn Park’s popular Parks and Recreation director is leaving to take over parks operations in Ramsey County.
News of Jon Oyanagi’s departure comes four months after a divided City Council rejected a government reorganization plan under which several positions, including Oyanagi’s, would have been eliminated and two others created. But Oyanagi said his move has nothing to do with that episode.
As director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation, he will supervise nearly four times the acreage and twice the number of employees as in Brooklyn Park. He’s also rooted in the community. He grew up in Maplewood and lives in St. Paul.
When he starts his new job May 5, Oyanagi will oversee a staff of 80 full-time equivalent workers and more than 6,500 acres of parkland, including the Tamarack Nature Center. In Brooklyn Park, he has managed 1,500 acres of parkland and more than 40 employees.
During his six-year tenure, he oversaw the construction of a ground-breaking competitive wheelchair softball field. He supervised the establishment of the city’s first dog park and two community garden sites that have nearly 200 individual plots. He also supervised the multimillion-dollar makeover of Edinburgh USA, the city’s 26-year-old championship golf course.
“Jon is really well respected in parks management. His leadership is well-known,” said Ramsey County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt. “He has a calm and steady approach to sometimes emotional challenges. He really has the ability to balance the interests of many stakeholders. He has the proven ability to adapt services to changing community expectations and needs.”
His salary at Ramsey County will be $137,000 a year, about a $10,000 increase compared to his Brooklyn Park salary.
Last December, Oyanagi’s Brooklyn Park position was one of two supervisor positions on the chopping block in a proposed city staff reorganization. The City Council narrowly defeated the plan.
Oyanagi said the proposed reorganization didn’t influence his decision to leave. He replaces Greg Mack, who is retiring from Ramsey County.
Oyanagi, 56, grew up in Maplewood and earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation, parks and leisure studies from the University of Minnesota. He has worked in parks departments across the Twin Cities for 34 years, holding positions in Minneapolis, Eagan, Anoka County and St. Peter.
Ramsey County will pose different challenges, he said. “It’s more natural resource orientated than a city park system,” Oyanagi said.
Some projects already on his radar: the county’s attempt to acquire the Vadnais Heights Sports Center and the reopening of Keller Golf Course in Maplewood, which closed for a year for construction and upgrades.
Whatever the terrain — be it a manicured urban golf course or a nature center surrounded by acres of native landscape — parks are critical to any community, he said.
“Residents are looking for parks and trails and open space as a reason to move and live in a city. Businesses like to locate in cities where there are nice park amenities for their employees and customers,” Oyanagi said. “It provides a quality of life people are looking for. In Minnesota, people expect quality parks and trails.”