Wisconsin State Parks Position Themselves in Self-Funding Era … April “Silent Alarm”
BY MIKE MCFADZEN
The Wisconsin State Park System has always been a success story. Forward thinking leaders from bygone times had the wherewithal, determination and courage to preserve many important Wisconsin properties. It’s easy to marvel at the many beautiful lakeshore parks including Point Beach, Harrington Beach, Whitefish Dunes and an urban wonder on the Milwaukee coast – Lakeshore State Park. The Mississippi River area has many gems including Wyalusing, Willow River, Interstate and Governor Knowles. The Central Highlands has the spectacular Northern Legion, Coppers Falls and many others. I could go on and on. If you haven’t visited them already, these special places should be on your bucket list.
Almost all US state park systems are at least partially funding with taxpayer support. In Wisconsin, all general purpose revenue (GPR) was cut in the 2015 state budget. The Wisconsin park system is now self-funded, which is unique on a national level. DNR leaders are trying to do their best with the hand dealt to them by the legislature.
State park visitation remains remarkably strong with over 17 million visitors in 2017. There is still high demand, even though some entrance and camping fees have already been raised. There are more fee increases coming in 2018.
Raising fees is a balancing act as DNR leaders need to maintain visitation and not price out families, and those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. State parks director Ben Bergy is rolling out some innovative funding strategies by incorporating demand-based pricing. This includes increasing fees at the busiest parks, which may shift users to less-busy parks that can handle more capacity.
“Some of our state parks are so busy it can discourage visitors,” Bergy told Silent Sports. “The annual park sticker will remain at $26, with daily entry fee increases of $2 – $5 at three parks.”
Those of us who have waited in line at Devil’s Lake or Peninsula on a summer weekend will probably understand this approach. The new entry and camping fees include:
• Camping fees will be increased at 38 properties and decreased at 36.
• Average camping fee increase is $3.
• The maximum camping fee increase at Devil’s Lake is $7.
• The maximum camping fee decrease is $5 at several parks.
• Peninsula electrical sites will be raised from $30 – $37.
• Daily fee pass increases range from $2 at both Willow River and Peninsula, to $5 at Devil’s Lake.
• Annual park sticker remains $28 in-state, $38 out of state.
The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks (FWSP) and individual Friends Groups have stepped into the financial and political void to help support state properties though education, funding and advocacy. These efforts translated into success during the 2017 budget cycle as state parks were allocated $2 million.
Some of these monies go towards electrical campsites according to Bergy.
“Electrical camp sites are in high demand, often filling all summer,” he said. “We are going to add 200 more electrical sites.”
Another facet is a $250k matching grant program for state park Friends Groups.
“We want to partner with Friends Groups to determine high priority items,” Bergy added. “Almost all campers want a fire ring, a good picnic table and level place to pitch a tent. This program will help Friends Groups do more with their money.”
Another legislative victory for parks included more monies for water infrastructure. Senator Rob Cowles (R) Green Bay authored Senate Bill 421 that provides an additional $4.5 million for needed parks water projects, included repairing septic systems and wells at high visitation parks. Big Bay, Devil’s Lake and other parks will see these improvements in 2018.
Don’t be surprised if you see higher fees at your favorite state park this spring. You might find another state park gem right down the road at a lower cost. People should consider joining your favorite park’s Friends Group – they are doing great things for state parks. Find information on FWSP and Friends Groups HERE.
Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ear National Monuments Reduced in Size
Two large national monuments took big hits when the Trump Administration significantly reduced the size of Bears Ear and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. The Bears Ear was reduced to 201,876 acres – 16 percent of its original size when created by President Barack Obama in 2015. The Grand Staircase was reduced to 1,003,863 acres, approximately half its original size when created by President Bill Clinton in 1996. These two Utah National Monuments are known for large canyons, spectacular rock formations, mountains, cascades, as well as important Native American cultural and historic landmarks. This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history, according to apparel manufacturer Patagonia. The outdoor recreation community has rallied against the action, enlisting support from groups across the political spectrum. National monuments have become destination points for recreationalists including campers, backpackers, bikers and hikers. Communities associated with these public lands have flourished due to increased visitation but, now uncertainty reigns in this tourism sector. Get a tour of Bears Ear by CLICKING HERE.
“The most important immediate change is that the lands will once again be available for mining prospectors to get out on federal public lands and stake mining claims,” said Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with Earthjustice.
Mining companies and large farms covet the lands for exploration and grazing. Oil and gas companies will now be able to lease these properties for a couple bucks per acre.
Environmental groups, Indian Tribes and apparel manufacturers’ Patagonia and The North Face are suing to keep these properties in the public domain under the Antiquities Act, which does not permit presidents to roll back national monument status or size. According to Patagonia, the President is putting over a million acres of land at risk for permanent destruction. Protecting public lands is a core tenant of Patagonia’s mission.
The man charged with the national monument review is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
“Sound public policy is not based on threats of lawsuits – it’s based on doing what’s right,” Zinke responded to Patagonia’s public-land concerns.
Other national monuments will also be subject to Zinke’s scrutiny. Midwest national monuments include Pipestone and Grand Portage in Minnesota, Effigy Mounds in Iowa and Pullman in Illinois. If Zinke decides to review National Lakeshores, the Midwest could also be impacted. The Apostle Islands, Pictured Rocks, Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Indiana Dunes are spectacular lakeshore landscapes with loads of recreational opportunity.
Supporters of these reductions claim government overreach and cite energy independence issues. Trump’s action has already taken a political toll. Long-time Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a proponent of the monument reduction, has decided not to run for another term after Utah’s largest newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune, criticized him for supporting the national monument reduction.
The Trump Administration is mulling further reductions in national monuments. If these public lands are important to you, contact your US Senate or House representatives. Find them by CLICKING HERE.