April Silent Alarm
BY MICHAEL MCFADZEN
I don’t mind when Minnesota wins, unless it’s football against Green Bay. But Minnesota State Parks won big as Parks Director Ben Bergy announced he will leave Wisconsin’s top park job to take the role of Northwest Division Park and Trail Director for Minnesota State Parks. Bergy is a known innovator with a long list of accomplishments during his four plus year tenure. Building partnerships with 501c3s, businesses, top DNR staff and the legislature helped raise the profile of state parks during his stay.
Bergy positioned “Parks” to a stronger financial position by developing demand based pricing and increasing revenue by working with DNR leadership and the legislature to establish more parks funding. ACT 59 and ACT 71 added over $4M for state lands. Water infrastructure got a $10M boost through legislation advanced by Senator Rob Cowles. Bergy also automated fee collection by developing self-pay kiosks and electronic pay stations allowing staff to spend more time with visitors.
During a recent visit, Bergy was hesitant to take credit. “I was surrounded by excellent staff and great partners. Parks are key to quality of life and my staff is talented and passionate about their work. It’s a dream job to have a positive influence on people’s lives and parks do that”. Bergy and staff developed big initiatives including the OutWiGo program which helps create bonds between people, community health and wellness. Dozens of events have taken place including OutWiGo Girls, in which 1600 women participated in backcountry events, equestrian, skiing, hiking and other outdoor activities. “Partnership are very important in this self-funding era. Give credit to our partners like the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks and the Friends Groups across the state,” Bergy told Silent Sports. “They fund and host thousands of events across the state.”
There is a bright future for Wisconsin State Parks, according to Bergy. “It’s an incredible vital system protecting the most unique cultural, natural resource and recreational areas of the state. It’s been an honor.”
“It was the hardest decision of my life to leave.” Bergy cited personal and professional life rebalancing as reasons for the job swap. “I’ve got four children and my family is a priority.”
New Legislation Provides Positive Impacts for Outdoor Recreation
Tick season is approaching and the Wisconsin Legislature has responded. As previously reported in Silent Sports, tick and tick related disease have had an oversize impact on Midwest residents, particularly outdoor recreationists. Ticks are on the move which is causing an increasingly severe public health threat. Wisconsin Governor Evers recently signed two bills into law. Act 73 requires tick awareness signage on state lands where ticks are present. Act 74 requires tick repellant be available for sale at numerous state lands. Two other bills are also expected to pass, including a Lymes Disease (LD) awareness program and the establishment of a LD Task Force. A measure to fund a LD Epidemiologist will likely not pass. This is a reasonable start as Wisconsin has been lagging other states in LD legislation even though Wisconsin is the fourth worst state in the country for Lymes Disease.
There will be a huge boost for water facility and infrastructure as the Parks Revitalization Act was signed into law by Governor Evers in February. The bill provides $5.2M for critical health and safety-related water projects in state parks.
The Water Quality Task Force has several bills in the works which will have a positive impact on water quality and recreation. Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) authored several of these including the Establishing Pollution Prevention Partnerships, the SCHOOL Act to reduce lead exposure from water among children in schools, daycares, group homes and summer camps. And the PFAS Pollution Prevention Bill which regulates the use of polyfluoroalkyl substances ( PFAS).
Cowles is concerned that progress be made on water quality problems. “With 15,000 lakes, and 44,000 miles of rivers and streams, Wisconsin is blessed with abundant water but is still confronted by several key water quality issues. Clean water is fundamental for human health and crucial for maintaining a high standard of living. As our knowledge of the water challenges evolve we must employ measures to help.”
Wisconsin Winter/Spring Storm Damage Spirals Upward
High lake levels, compounded by winter storms have had a huge impact on state lands infrastructure. “The Historical rains the past 2-3 years compounded by winter freeze thaw cycles have led to significant lakeshore property damage,” according to DNR Capital Development Coordinator Caitlyn Lill. “Water levels are so high that there is almost no Lake Michigan beach left in many areas.” The damage includes-
- Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee had riprap pulled away from shore and lakeside road flooding.
- The Kohler-Andre State Parks Rain Garden was flooded and damaged. The Garden was designed to accept storm water from a bio swale and filter/disperse water into Lake Michigan.
- Rock Island water levels may threaten the ability to disembark ferry travelers. There is also significant foundation erosion on the historic large boat dock.
- The Harrington Beach board walk is damaged.
- Additional flood damage at Wyalusing, Potawatomi, Point Beach, and Pattison state parks and the Elroy Sparta State Trail.
“It’s hard to put an exact price on the park’s damage but it’s going be more upwards of $1M,” according to Lill. Wisconsin Governor Evers requested FEMA assistance for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties where damage is estimated at $30M.
Snowmobilers Getting Big Raise
The snowmobile community is pushing for legislation that would increase their statewide funding from $2,475,400 to $5,475,400 annually. The astounding increase of $3M annually is likely to pass the legislature. The fund is used for trail grooming, infrastructure improvements, land easements and other purposes. There is no similar funding for silent sports winter recreation.