Iron (Ranger) Man Lives!

Iron (Ranger) Man Lives!

You may have noticed some yellow posts and a small foundation going in on Devil’s Lake State Park’s south shore. Well, this is soon to be home to a new “Iron Ranger” Automated Pay Station.

According to Steve Schmelzer, Devil’s Lake State Park’s superintendent, this is one of 3 automated pay stations that will be going up around the state as a test of the automated systems now used in other parks around the country.

Here is one “Iron Ranger” vendor’s promo video…

Iron Rangers not only have the potential to save the park system money but should increase overall revenue by being “on duty” at all times as well as by accepting credit cards. Both features should help problems we’ve seen in the past will empty envelope boxes and visitors without cash simply choosing not to pay admission when there is no staff on hand. What’s more, the automated system allows folks to purchase annual stickers at any time as well which has been shown to increase sales in other states that use the system.

According to one 2012 report I’ve read*, it can cost between $70,000 & $150,000 thousand to build a standard pay station and around $20,000 to staff over the summer and another $2,000 to maintain annually. The only report I could find on an Iron Ranger reported a total first-year cost of $54,000 including the machine. The estimated yearly cost after that was stated at $2,000. While the numbers I found are a few years old and may not reflect at all what Wisconsin Parks will pay, it’s fair to say there should be a significant increase in revenue with the automated system over time.

Now, there were some negatives out there. On heavy days, an iron ranger simply isn’t fast enough and human rangers will be needed as well. There are often annual service agreements to pay, there can be long waits on service calls, software issues, and connectivity problems as well. That’s the nature of technology these days. Nothing seems to work like it should!

If all goes well with the system, I can see more of them going in at parks and natural areas around the state. I would hope Parfrey’s Glen and Pewit’s Nest are high on the list! Still though, if there are no rangers or wardens doing regular patrols it will be easy to simply walk around the automated systems just as folks do with pay envelopes. It still comes down to park visitors being honest.

One thing I wouldn’t worry about with the new Iron Rangers is that they will replace human staff… In Wisconsin parks, they will hopefully fill the gaps caused by years governmental discord and help raise much-needed revenue for our “self-sustaining” park system.

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