Wisconsin Wrestles with State Campground Funding

June 24, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Lakeshore at Crystal Lake campground

Wisconsin’s state campground operators say meeting visitor needs and maintaining grounds has become more challenging, even as the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) budget stays steady.

The state will spend nearly $19 million operating its 47 parks, 41 trails and six recreation areas in the next year, about the same amount it received in the previous biennium budget. The division of forestry, which manages six of the eight state forests, likewise will see no change to its $51 million budget, the Wausau Daily Herald reported.

The DNR supplements its own staff with $8.50-an-hour seasonal managers to collect fees and help maintain some state parks and forests. Some campers also volunteer as hosts at state forests and parks and help keep them clean. They don’t collect fees.

Even with stable budgets for parks and forests, campground visitors still might see grass that’s a little long or perhaps a downed log or two. Steve Petersen, superintendent of the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, said his budget has been cut and he is unable to hire contractors who at one time maintained the park, collected garbage and helped educate the public about the forest.

“I got here in 2006, and since then I’ve turned this operation upside down and shaken it so hard, it’s hard to tell what’s what,” Petersen said. “Some things we used to contract for we do ourselves, and some stuff we did ourselves and now we contract.”

Petersen’s $839,000 budget in 2009 was cut by more than $106,000 in 2010, so he’s thankful to have cheap or free labor to help maintain his forest.

“Some people are really, really proud of their campground, and their sense of ownership is tremendous,” he said.

Jim Warnecke and his wife, Sarah, have managed the Buffalo and Cunard lakes campgrounds at Northern Highlands-American Legion for the past 13 years.

They don’t mind the work, or working a bit more than when they started 13 years ago, because they consider the campgrounds “the jewels” of Northern Highland-American Legion.

Plus, “we’ve camped for a long time, and this gives us access to the public and keeps us on our toes,” he said.

Teague Pritchard, state forest specialist for the DNR’s forestry division, said each forest has a master plan for the next 10 to 15 years and always takes “all different approaches” to try to save money, he said.

That doesn’t make the process any easier, Petersen said.

“We love giving great service, nothing makes us feel better than to really serve someone well, so it kind of stings when you have this ‘Eureka!’ idea to save some money somewhere, and then it’s like, ‘By the way, we need another $15,000 out of you,'” he said.


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