After nearly 30 years as executive director of the Friends of the Parks and Trails of St. Paul and Ramsey County, Peggy Lynch is stepping down. But not before the nonprofit advocacy group decides on a new director, which it hasn't done yet.

"I'm going to stay on a bit to help the new person," she said.

That's typical of Lynch, a former occupational therapist and avid government watchdog who on the heels of fights over riverfront development was named director of the new group in 1985.

Since then, her persistence and dedication have helped change the east metro area and won her the title "conscience of the parks."

Before the Friends and Lynch came on the scene, St. Paul sold parkland for a dollar per parcel, there were few if any local park commissions and large developers coveting land had no obligation to donate to the park system.

Now, the city and Ramsey County can unload park acreage only if they add the same amount elsewhere — a no-net-loss policy that Lynch calls "one of the most valuable things the Friends has done."

For Lynch, the Friends job wedded her lifelong interest in the outdoors with a fascination of government process first planted by Lola Fay, a Wilson High School teacher.

After joining campaigns in the 1980s opposing the dredging of Pig's Eye Island and a proposed high-rise near the Watergate Marina, Lynch helped form the Friends and became director. "I was the only one not working for money at the time," she said.

The next big parks challenge, Lynch said, is adding green space on University Avenue in St. Paul. Light-rail transit will bring more housing, she said, and "there's no place for kids to play. What's wrong with us not to recognize we have to provide amenities for the people who live there?"

Lynch, a Highland Park resident who has four children and nine grandchildren, said she just decided it was time to retire. Her plans include travel and sitting on the Friends' board. The group will hold a party for her Aug. 5 at Como Park.

"I'm not planning to retire to Florida," she said. "I want to stay around here and work for the things I've always worked for."

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035