Most everyone agrees that something has to be done about Devil’s Lake State Park’s boat rental facilities. With the congestion and rental boats stretching nearly a quarter of the way down the busy beach at times, a new boathouse and rental area is a good idea. But that’s the easy bit. The devil, of course, is in the details.
Part 1. Outfitters
I had talked to the park superintendent a couple of weeks back about construction plans including a new boathouse. At the time it seemed pretty innocuous. However, when a September, 22nd article in the Wisconsin State Journal came out, it included this;
“The DNR also wants to increase services beyond rentals and guided tours, with guided interpretive hikes, rock climbing instruction, scuba diving instruction, etc., as demand increases for those activities.”
This doesn’t seem to describe a boathouse as much as it does a commercial outdoor adventure center. As someone who leads hikes in the park and works with a variety of climbing outfitters in other aspects, it sent off a few alarm bells. It wasn’t long before I received a couple emails from others with similar concerns. Generally;
Is the state going to compete with private outfitters?
Will the state in future deny permits to private outfitters who are seen to be competing with park consessions services?
The answer to the first question is, well yes. If they add these services as they suggest. If the state concessions offer climbing instruction it would certainly be competing at some level with private outfitters who have built their businesses around the park for decades. This could suck depending on how it was done. Private outfitters have to invest in a lot of time, training, equipment, insurance, etc., and often function on a thin margin. The state isn’t under the same pressure and could potentially bury smaller players. (For instance, a private kayak instructor usually maintains costly certifications through the ACA, a park kayak tour guide generally does not.)
The second question is regarding permits and the answer is more nuanced;
Here is the key paragraph from the State Commercial Use Application & Permit Page…
“Information supplied on this application may trigger the need for a different permit, license or contract. Activities involving the solicitation or collection of money on state property may require a Special Event Recreational Use License or concession permit. Wisconsin DNR may deny this application if this type of permit or the activity would be inappropriate, or if the activity would compete with existing contracts on the property.“
At first read, it suggests that permits could be denied if the activity would compete with existing contracts, say, a new state park rock climbing instruction service. However, in an email conversation with the park superintendent, Steve Schmelzer yesterday, he pointed out that I had skipped over the key phrase,
“Activities involving the solicitation or collection of money on state property”
To quote Mr. Schmelzer, ” We have no intention of denying Commercial Use Permits for services or businesses that are paid for outside the park.” So if payment is received outside of the park boundaries, then they probably won’t be denied a permit. I hope that does alleviate some concern for local outfitters. On the other hand, “intent” is a grey area by any measure and it seems that the relationship between Wisconsin parks and private outfitters may need a review as parks seek to expand into these areas.
Part II – Priorities
- Change happens. Back in 1925 many folks thought that a North Shore Chateau would be an abomination, blocking the view of the lake. Today, most people love the historic Chateau and can’t imagine the park without it. Adding a boathouse, however, will mean 3 buildings will now occupy the area. We are in a slow process of moving from a historic building (2 actually) to a busy complex. Is this the direction we want to head?
- Finishing The Job. A new retaining wall was put on the north shore in 2015. It is still unfinished. In December of 2015, the park superintendent told the Baraboo News Republic that this white whale of a wall, “will be stained light brown with some purple added to it to “make it look more natural.” Shouldn’t we finish this upgrade before moving on to the next?
- The new building will be paid for with a $105,000 donation from the Devil’s Lake Concession Corp. and the Friends of Devil’s Lake State Park. Let’s be clear, a friends group donation means anyone who is a member or has donated to the friends. So you have a vested interest as well. When you donate to the friends, how do you envision your money will be spent? What are your priorities for the park?
Part III – My Opinion
Personally, I know we need a new boathouse at Devil’s Lake. I’m for it. (I’m not keen on the location but..) My thought would be this;
- Let’s build a boathouse but also examine and update the park’s relationship with private outfitters. Many national parks can provide examples.
- Let’s finish what we start. Let’s stain that white retaining wall before laying a brick of the new boathouse.
- Let’s set minds to updating and correctly repairing our janky trails once and for all in 2018. It’s the silk purse & sow’s ear metaphor. Fancy Buildings & Janky Trails Don’t Mix.
My gut tells me that we can’t keep asking the public (ultimately) to pay for new buildings through increased fees or donations while they’re tripping over broken blacktop, jumping gullies or sitting on broken benches. If we’re going to invest in a big beautiful boathouse, let’s make sure the rest of the park is up to snuff as well.
Part IV – Make Yourself Heard
Whatever you think about the new boathouse, please, please take time to comment. This is YOUR park and your input makes a big difference.
***Obligatory Disclaimer: This website is NOT associated with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The views expressed in this blog are mine and do not represent the views of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.