Bob Bierscheid is ready for more fairways and fewer budget meetings.

For the past seven years he has been the director of St. Paul's Parks and Recreation department. He worked for Roseville for 22 years before that.

Bierscheid, 63, confirmed Wednesday that he will be retiring at the end of this year.

"Honestly, I have mixed emotions. I love what I'm doing," he said. "It's just time."

Bierscheid's tenure has been marked by budget cuts and several departmental reorganizations. But he also has led efforts to bring more money into the department through corporate partnerships.

"I think Bob has been exceptional in every way," said Mayor Chris Coleman, who retained Bierscheid from former Mayor Randy Kelly's staff. "There are not enough superlatives to use."

"I'm absolutely heartbroken," said Carrie Wasley, chairwoman of the Parks and Recreation Commission. "He's masterful. No matter what challenge was thrown his way, he turned it into an opportunity."

Despite tight resources, Bierscheid said his job has been easier because residents care about their open space.

The park system includes the Como Park Zoo and Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, Midway Stadium, dozens of recreational centers, three golf courses, several swimming pools and 4,200 acres of parkland.

Among the initiatives Bierscheid has been part of:

• The Como Zoo has managed to stay free because of visitor donations. The program began in 2004 and now brings in $1 million a year, Bierscheid said.

• The Jimmy Lee Recreation Center had been on the city's capital improvements list since 1992, but dirt didn't turn until 2006. The $12 million facility -- set to open at the end of the month -- has had more than $2 million in cost overruns, but it's being hailed as the city's crown jewel of rec centers with its waterpark and four gyms.

• The city was going to close eight rec centers but has found nonprofit organizations to take over operations at many of them.

• Bierscheid has helped to form a parks conservancy -- an independent, nonprofit organization that will raise money and partner with the city to help maintain and enhance the system.

The low point of his time in St. Paul, he said, was having to cut 16 jobs in 2003.

A combination of things -- a fifth grandchild, an upcoming birthday and wanting to spend more time with wife, Joan -- went into his retirement decision, Bierscheid said.

He said he's making the early announcement to ensure a smooth transition.

Coleman said the city will search nationally for a replacement.

Council Member Lee Helgen, whose Fifth Ward includes parts of Como Park, said he has been impressed with Bierscheid's commitment to the city. "His can-do attitude will be missed," Helgen said.

Bierscheid's a modest guy and is quick to point out the good work of others. In retirement, though, he might just point out more work for others.

"I want to be on the phone saying, 'How come that path has a crack in it? I want it fixed,'" he said.

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542