Gov. Tony Evers announced Friday Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary Preston D. Cole will retire from state government on Nov. 23, 2022, ending a 35-year career in public service.
“Preston has been an integral part of my administration since day one, and we are sorry to see him go,” Evers said in a statement. “With his help, we brought science back to the DNR, we helped ensure Wisconsinites have cleaner, safer water, and we are tackling climate change head-on, all while supporting our state park system and the outdoor recreational economy that so many Wisconsinites and visitors enjoy. He has been a great leader at the DNR, and I thank him for his dedicated, thoughtful service to the people of our state and wish him and his family nothing but the best in his retirement.”
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with you as your Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, and I will continue to stand with Gov. Evers as a Wisconsinite, colleague, and friend,” Cole said in a statement. “Thanks to Gov. Evers for ushering in a new era of environmental protections and conservation programs. His efforts to put the well-being of Wisconsinites first continues to resonate in every corner of our great state. I have no doubt that in his second term he will continue to put the people of Wisconsin first.”
Wisconsin’s state parks saw record attendance in 2019, 2020, and 2021, with attendance topping 20 million visitors, according to the press release. Resident annual park sticker sales increased 43 percent and nonresident annual admission sticker sales increased by 142 percent by July 2021. Secretary Cole oversaw the implementation of “Your Pass Now,” an online park admission program, and continued implementation of electronic payment kiosks, making it easier than ever for park visitors to purchase their park passes.
Gov. Evers appointed Secretary Cole to the DNR in December 2018. Prior to his appointment, Secretary Cole spent 11 years serving on the Natural Resources Board after appointments in 2007 by Gov. Jim Doyle and 2013 by Gov. Scott Walker. Additionally, he served as the Natural Resources Board chair in 2013 and 2014.
Secretary Cole previously served as commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services and as director of operations for the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works. He drew distinction for becoming the first Black forester hired by the Missouri Department of Conservation, where he began his career.
Evers did not announce an appointment to replace Cole.