State Parks Face Challenges as 3 High-ranking Employees Retire

As 2010 drew to a close, the long careers of three high-ranking state park employees did as well. Rick Ostrowski, park manager at Whitefish Dunes State Park, Gene Tiser, interim superintendent at Peninsula State Park, and Arnie Lindauer, regional district supervisor for the Wisconsin State Parks, all retired at year’s end, taking more than 90 years of combined experience with them.

Tiser had been the interim superintendent at Peninsula for a year, and now the top job at a park that is central to the tourism promotion and economics of Door County trickles down to Erin Brown, park manager at Potawatomi State Park, who has received what she called a “very temporary acting assignment” as Peninsula’s acting supervisor. She said she was informed that her assignment could be as short as six weeks.

Dan Schuller, director of the Wisconsin State Parks system for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the retirements weren’t a complete surprise.

“We have a lot of employees who came into the parks program together in the 1970s as it expanded, and now they’re all retiring together,” he said. “There’s this bubble of very experienced staff that we’re losing, and it came a little bit faster than we expected.”

Schuller concedes that position freezes demanded by the state over the past two years have hampered hiring, but Peninsula is not subject to that freeze. “We continue to advocate to the new administration to fill these positions and we continue to recruit to fill those positions,” Schuller said. “In the past two years there was a position freeze, but we are allowed to fill our most critical fills. We honestly didn’t have a lot of people that took interest in the Peninsula State Park position.”

When the economy slumped in 2007, the parks system saw use skyrocket as vacationers sought more affordable getaways. At the same time, budgets were cut and positions frozen, putting a greater burden on the staff that remained. Given those conditions, and new Governor Scott Walker’s rhetoric about cutting state employees, don’t be surprised if more drastic measures enter the discussion in the near future.

“At this time, there are no plans to close any of Door County’s state parks,” Schuller said when asked about rumors circulating among park users. But it’s hard to envision the system maintaining a full level of services and access if the current trend continues.

Look for more on the challenges facing the state parks in the Jan. 21 edition of the Peninsula Pulse.

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