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New chief planning for Brookings Parks & Rec

BROOKINGS – Dusty Rodiek is getting into the swing of things as the new Parks, Recreation & Forestry director for the city of Brookings. He started June 17.

He took the job because of Brookings’ reputation.

“Brookings has the reputation of being progressive and also has the reputation of doing things right,” Rodiek said. “It’s just, I would say, a commitment to excellence.”

Background

Rodiek and his wife, Carol, live near Florence, north of Watertown, where they have three dogs. They have two adult children and three grandchildren. Their son is park superintendent for Nebraska’s largest state park.

Rodiek grew up in northern Illinois, right near the Wisconsin line and attended Eastern Illinois University. 

“Actually, my degree is in zoology,” he said.

He originally planned to be a fish biologist but found himself taking wildlife management classes and resource management classes as part of the curriculum. 

“And the other side of it is, I grew up in this business. My dad was a parks superintendent in the state of Illinois for 35 years,” Rodiek said, adding most of his summer jobs growing up were in park maintenance.

After graduation, he moved to Colorado and took a park maintenance seasonal position, which turned into a full-time position. He rose to park manager in a 3,000-acre mountain park just outside Golden, Colorado. 

That park was “one of the premier mountain bike parks on the front range,” Rodiek said, adding they had equestrian trails, some back country campsites, picnic areas, interpretive trails and nature trails, which he was in charge of managing and maintaining.

He was park supervisor in Kearney, Nebraska, for 18 years, supervising the joint city/county park there.

“My role changed a little bit and it was more supervising some of the city parks and project management for some large park projects in Kearney,” Rodiek said.

He was the Parks & Rec director for the city of Mitchell for 5 1/2 years, then became the director for Joy Ranch, a Lutheran outdoors camp near Florence for about two years.

“I had always had the desire to start my own business, so I started my own property management business in Watertown and did that full-time for … almost two years,” he said.

But he missed being in parks and recreation.

“In this business, you have the opportunity to have a positive impact on just a wide variety of people,” Rodiek said. “That’s kind of why I do this is to be able to create value and give those positive experiences to the people that use our facilities.”

Brookings caught his eye

With that in mind, he applied for the position in Brookings.

“Brookings, statewide, has a reputation of quality and some innovative programs that have … come through the recreation department,” Rodiek said. “It’s always great to step into a system that the community already values.”

He noted the downtown landscaping, which has been a model for other communities, including when he was in Mitchell.

The Larson Ice Center is “one of the nicest, if not the nicest, hockey arenas in the state,” Rodiek said.

“For our sized community, we have excellent facilities and that’s not just in the parks,” Rodiek said.

He thinks the duties he has now are comparable to the ones he had in Mitchell but noted that “Brookings is a slightly larger community.”

Brookings has a golf course, which he’s dealt with before in Kearney, Nebraska, and he used to play golf “quite a bit,” he said.

The golf course in Mitchell was in a separate division, “but Mitchell did have a rec center, so what I wasn’t doing with a golf course, that balanced with the duties of managing a rec center,” Rodiek said.

Looking to the future

Rodiek is still getting used to the job, but he’s enjoying it.

“I have a tremendous staff that has made the transition comfortable,” he said.

Good thing, because he had to face budget considerations in his first months. 

“Fortunately, I’m kind of a numbers guy so that did not put me in a tailspin,” said Rodiek, who does financial consulting on the side. His philosophy is “don’t spend more than you have coming in.”

Even though there’s a lot for a Parks, Rec & Forestry director to do in Brookings – including overseeing all the operations and planning – he’s already got some ideas for the future.

Immediate duties include developing a plan to deal with the inevitable emerald ash borer arrival, right down to people’s taste in recreational activities.

Years ago, “croquet was a big thing; nobody plays croquet any more,” Rodiek noted. “We have to adapt. … Just see what is out there and provide those opportunities for the community.”

One of the things he’s looking forward to is working with South Dakota State University, and he has some plans for community-wide activities, including a community Olympics-style event for adults, similar to one he participated in when he was in Kearney, Nebraska.

“It is a really fun event,” Rodiek said. “It gets people out there, enjoying the parks, participating, trying new things, and it’s one of those that, it’s primarily geared toward adults. I believe this community has the energy to lean into that and to really participate and have some fun with it.”

He also plans to get the community involved in fitness activities challenges, wanting to partner with the hospital for that. 

“We might have one challenge per month,” he said, adding it’s “just a thought” right now.

He knows Brookings has a wide range of ages in the population and he wants to create community involvement for everyone.

“Our population is aging. We do a lot of programming for youth and we’re gonna continue that,” Rodiek said. “At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re addressing the entire community and offering things adults are interested in, as well.”

“A large part of this job is just trying to anticipate future needs, address current needs … just trying to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible,” Rodiek said.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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