Medina County Park District Director Nate Eppink may be new to Medina County, but the 41-year-old brings more than 15 years of park district experience to the role held for 25 years by recent retiree Tom James.
"The board of park commissioners, last year, retained the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association to do a search knowing that Tom James would retire this year," Eppink said Thursday morning. "They wanted to find an individual that could learn alongside Tom and transition into the director and they did a statewide search and they ultimately chose me."
Park District Commissioner Dennis Neate said the position attracted a significant amount of interest throughout the state and Eppink was one of six candidates brought in for an initial interview.
"Nate was a leading candidate from the start with his personality, his experience and his style," Neate said. "He came to us from Summit Metro Parks as a communications professional and that is an invaluable piece of the job in our opinion."
Eppink officially joined the Medina County Park District as the capital projects coordinator last February.
Eppink said during that time he worked on a number of projects varying from parking lot stripping and restroom installation to attending public meetings and observing park programs.
"It has really been a great opportunity to learn and get my feet wet here before becoming the director," he said.
Eppink said it was made clear early on that would have big shoes to fill in Medina County. James retired Sept. 30.
"Really, Tom and our board have set up this organization to succeed," Eppink said. "We have levy funding through 2025, a lot of great projects on the drawing board, so really the opportunity to continue that legacy is what attracted me to Medina County Park District."
Eppink said he traces his interest in the parks to his childhood, when he would visit different Cleveland Metroparks. He also enjoyed a township park near his dad's home in Lake County.
"There were tennis courts and basketball courts and a playground and sled hill," he said. "We spent a lot of time there growing up, but I had never thought of parks and recreation as a profession."
Eppink said he initially thought we wanted to work in the radio, broadcast journalism or public relations and received with a bachelor's degree in communications from Cleveland State University.
A string of internship opportunities followed at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Lumberjacks hockey team and Cleveland radio station 98.5 FM WNCX, but it was his last internship with the Cleveland Metroparks that opened his eyes to working at a parks system.
"My last internship was the one that was life changing," he said. "It lasted about
13 months. They gave me real work to do, I learned a lot from the folks there and that was my start in the field."
Eppink then worked for the Geauga Park District in Chardon between 2002 and 2004, and spent the last 13 years working for the Summit County Metro Parks.
While James, 68, and Eppink are from different generations, Eppink said there are definitely some similarities between the two.
"He has a really good sense of humor and I like to think I do," Eppink said of James. "He doesn't take himself too seriously, he takes his work seriously but not himself and that has kind of been my philosophy."
Eppink said the three main areas that he sees as the most pressing for the park district are maintaining standards, retaining staff but also recruiting new talent as positions open within the park district and planning for the future.
"When Tom started here we had about 1,000 acres and he has helped lead a lot of change and evolution. We are at 6,500 acres now," he said. "There will be change and evolution necessary over time to meet demands of the public, to preserve more land and provide more opportunities."
Eppink, who is married and has three children ages 2, 6 and 8, said that while each park offers a unique experience to enjoy, he has two specific personal connections with two different district parks: Allardale and Buckeye Woods Schleman Nature Preserve.
"I first hiked (at Allardale) on Oct. 1 of last year, my first day as director here was Oct. 1 so I feel a little bit of a connection there," he said. "The other kind of neat personal connection, Schleman Nature Preserve ... that was dedicated the day I was born, Oct. 31 1976."
Contract information for Eppink was not available Thursday.