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Douglas County adopts policies to manage parks

The labor shortage prompted the forestry department to get creative to staff parks and campgrounds.

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Government Center Boardroom, Superior, Wisconsin. (Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram)
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SUPERIOR — Douglas County’s Forestry Department never had a year where they couldn’t find enough seasonal staff to cover the work that needs to be done in county parks.

This year, only half of the eight seasonal positions have been filled since the county posted the openings in March.

Now the Douglas County Forestry Department is considering a variety of options to fill key positions that serve parks and campgrounds.

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Wages are just one aspect of the proposal that includes restructuring how the department operates to ensure Douglas County’s recreational facilities are staffed. The Douglas County Board on Thursday, May 19, approved a $2 per hour wage increase for seasonal workers.

“We really have to start thinking outside the box,” said Jon Harris, forestry and natural resources director. “The problem that we’re faced with is we’ve done so much improvements to the parks in the last five years and the pandemic, our use has gone up close to 150% in the parks. We have more people using them. We have more issues in the parks. We need the bodies to accommodate all that extra use.”

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In addition to proposing a wage increase, Harris proposed options such as offering seasonal campground host positions and making campground aide positions available to limited-term foresters hired by the county.

One to two hosts would be provided with a full-time electric campsite at no charge and would be paid $11 per hour for a minimum of 20 hours work per week. Duties would include camper customer service; firewood sales; cleaning and maintenance of restrooms and shower houses; general campground upkeep and safety; and grounds maintenance, such as mowing.

Harris said the host positions would be located at Lucius Woods for sure and possibly at the Gordon Dam campground; Mooney Dam is too small to offer host positions.

“If we find the right person … we would be able to reduce our seasonal workers to have a host there,” Harris said.

The county normally hires one lead and two workers at Lucius Woods, and another lead and one worker at Gordon Dam. One additional lead and two workers handle the county’s smaller day-use parks.

The other option would allow limited-term foresters to utilize the campgrounds for their housing needs while working for the department by working about 10 hours per week outside of their normal hours. Duties would include cleaning and stocking restrooms; firewood sales; and covering hours when seasonal part-time staff are not working.

With the housing market in Solon Springs, Harris said most limited-term foresters are struggling to find places to live in area, and the campground option would alleviate the expense of rent in Superior, as well as gas traveling back and forth every day.

“We don’t know if they would be interested in this,” Harris said. “We have to talk to them. We think they would be.”

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He said they would be paid at the same rate they are paid for work as foresters.

Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert asked what impact it would have on the availability of campsites.

The impact during the week wouldn’t be as big an issue as the weekend, said Clint Meyer, resource and recreation manager. He said he’s already set aside a couple of sites that can’t be reserved.

With county campgrounds opening, Harris said, “we need to do something now.”

Supervisor Nick Baker made a motion Monday, May 16, during the forestry committee meeting to approve all three proposals, including the wage increase, to address the issue.

“I accept all three options and you use them as you need them,” Baker said.

The forestry committee’s decision to allow campground hosts or campground aides didn’t require county board approval.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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