‘Getting my feet wet’: City welcomes Kevin Nelson as new Park and Recreation director

Published 3:01 pm Saturday, April 13, 2019

Kevin Nelson, the new director of the Austin Park and Recreation Department, started on Monday by getting his feet wet, literally and figuratively.

“I got my tour of the (Jay C. Hormel) Nature Center, the full span of the Nature Center, and it was a little wetter than we anticipated,” he told the Herald. “It was an experience, but I can’t think of anyway better to get my feet wet than at the Nature Center.”

Nelson was hired to replace retiring director Kim Underwood, who became interim director on July 1, 2008, before becoming the official director on Jan. 1, 2009. Underwood’s last day is May 3, the culmination of 36 years with the city.

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“I’ve been here 36 years and it seems like I started yesterday,” she said. “It’s been a great place to work.”

Nelson brings years of recreational experience to the job. Prior to accepting the director’s position, Nelson spent 19 years as the executive director of the community center in Perham. There he oversaw social activities as well as the city’s summer recreation programs.

Prior to that he worked for the City of Marshall as a coordinator in recreation and community education.

“I really loved being around the people; the everyday interaction and working with the various aspects of that,” Nelson said. “I think (Austin’s park and rec is) a very broad program and very well thought out. I think people are happy to participate and they’re excited in all of the places I’ve been. They want things to do and I think it’s good to have a broad approach to things and I see that here.”

“He’s a numbers guy and that is very important in this job,” Underwood said of Nelson. “The fact that he has been in the field, has done summer rec, and he’s not just a desk person, that was a nice thing to hear. He likes to include his staff; that was a highlight for me because I like to include everyone’s opinion as well because we’re a team. It’s not an ‘I’ job.”

“It’s not about making decisions for them, it’s about us making the decisions to get things done for the community,” Nelson added.

Underwood discussed a few of the possible challenges awaiting Nelson based on her experience as director.

“You try to make everyone happy, but it doesn’t always work that way,” she said. “Sometimes recreational funding takes a long time to get, so you have to wait your turn on a lot of things. I think that’s hard for everyone, especially when you’re trying to work on a project and it would be great if you could get the project done. But it doesn’t always work that way. It’s a tough challenge, but it’s a challenge you get used to.”

With retirement around the corner, Underwood said she plans to spend more time riding her horse, kayaking, camping and spending time with her grandchildren.

Nelson said he is eager to get going and hopes to be an inclusive leader.

“(My vision is) to include everybody in the process and to see where they want to go and try to make things happen for them, maybe not as quickly, but as efficiently as possible,” he said.  “I’m excited to be in Austin. I think it’s a beautiful community and the people are as well.”