Thursday, December 13, 2018

Governor Elect Evers,


Governor-Elect Evers,

The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks (FWSP) is a non-profit organization that has existed for over 20 years with a mission to preserve, promote, protect, and enhance the Wisconsin State Parks, Trails, and Forests. While our direct work is with state park leadership, we represent and support over 80 individual state park, forest, trails, and recreation areas friends groups throughout the State of Wisconsin.

Collectively, these 80 plus organizations represent thousands of volunteers and partners that work alongside the Wisconsin DNR's State Park Program to ensure the parks, trails, and forests continue to be the premier destination for millions of people each year. Our support to local groups comes through advocacy and educational materials, communication and promotion, grants, and other donations made by FWSP to local friends groups.

The past few years has been both challenging and rewarding for FWSP as we have worked through the many changes in the WDNR and the WI State Parks Program. Through this, we have become a fully independent organization that has a very close working relationship with the WDNR as well as the State Legislature.

FWSP has asked many questions regarding operating costs and funding since the 2015-2017 state budget made the WI State Parks a self-funded program and removed all tax money support. In fact, we did not support this model originally but have since worked closely with the parks program to create an operationally self-funded model that is working well and we now support. This model allows for any additional outside money that comes into the State Parks program along with Stewardship Funds to be used for much-needed repairs and replacement of extremely old infrastructure throughout the parks.

One of our most noteworthy accomplishments over the past few years was our work in helping make over 8 million additional dollars available to the State Parks program. This included increasing the spending authority on the user-fee funded park segregated account and increase the amount of stewardship money available for critical infrastructure repairs and replacement throughout the state. FWSP worked directly with the millions of park users and elected officials to educate and raise awareness of these issues which ultimately resulted in several different legislative packages to enhance and repair our state parks to ensure the outstanding experience Wisconsin State Park visitors expect.

FWSP, along with the local friends groups, have been watching the DNR's alignment very closely since 2016. We were appreciative that program leadership met with us early in the process to discuss all the changes. The most significant change we were somewhat skeptical of was the changes made that took law enforcement credentials away from park and forest rangers. However, we were reassured the DNR's plan to have game wardens performing the work would only change the "color of the shirt" of the person doing the work and that visitors to parks, forests, and trails would not see any negative changes. During the summer of 2018 FWSP became aware of several problems associated with the law enforcement alignment. We were hearing about these issues directly from park users, volunteers, campground hosts, our local friends members, and reading articles in the Wisconsin Outdoor News. What we were hearing from those in the parks and forests was that visible law enforcement in the parks was all but gone in the mid-size and smaller properties. From our camping constituents at all properties, we were hearing of complaints of lack of LE presence in the campgrounds and lack of response to handle loud, intoxicated, or otherwise bothersome campers. Campground hosts are getting uncomfortable with the lack of law enforcement availability to handle issues within the campgrounds. Additionally, an article in the Outdoor News stated that the new warden model was going to cost the parks program millions more than using credentialed rangers had in the past. Therefore, hearing what we were, during the summer of 2018 we wrote a letter to DNR leadership regarding our concerns. We were pleased when shortly after we reached out to the DNR they announced they would be re-credentialing Rangers back in the Parks and Forests to ensure the financial sustainability of the parks account and to ensure all DNR customers were getting the service they deserve here in a state with a rich history in both hunting and fishing enforcement as well as park and forest enforcement. We were proud of the DNR for acknowledging that the replacement of law enforcement rangers with game wardens was not sustainable or practicable.

As we approach 2019 we are already thinking about the busy season coming up in our parks next summer. Many of us are year-round users or volunteers at our parks, forests, and trails. We understand that things take time to implement, but we are starting to notice an uneasiness from our constituents across the state as 2019 approaches and the lack of visible action by the DNR to implement putting credentialed rangers back into the parks and forests. We are proud to be part of the state park tradition here in Wisconsin. We are also proud of the fact that we were able to work with the DNR to make the self-funded model the program has been operating under since 2015 a success. In fact, as I talk to other friends groups around the country, we are one of the only states to be successful at this as many have failed. We will not support any initiatives that cost the parks program additional money and results in less service to the user paying the fees. FWSP believes it is imperative to return credentialed rangers back to our parks and forests for the safety and comfort our Wisconsin State Park users have come to expect and demand to keep the parks the envy of the nation. 

FWSP values the relationship we have with the current DNR leadership team and look forward to meeting with the new DNR leadership shortly after the first of the year to discuss our concerns.

Respectfully,

Bill Zager
Pres. of Friends of Wisconsin State Parks

CC: Secretary Meyer
Sen.Cowles
Sen.Marklein
Sen.Erpenbach
Sen.Schachtner
Rep.Tusler
Rep.Kitchens
Sanjay Olson
Erin Crain
Benjamin Bergie
Patricia Loosen
FWSP Executive Board

Sunday, January 21, 2018

State Park Funding



imageMany of us have been hearing about state park funding and have questions about how it will affect our parks and trails. Local friends groups provide thousands of volunteer hours and have delivered approximately $100M dollars to help support the mission and activities of the Wisconsin state parks, forests, trails, and recreation areas.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2017 Legislator of the Year Award to Representative Ron Tusler (R- Harrison)

The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks has awarded the Legislator of the Year  Award to Representative Ron Tusler (R- Harrison).
The Legislator of the Year Award is given annually to a Wisconsin legislator and staff who best champions the advancement of Wl Parks and related natural resource issues. This recognition is for leadership in promoting

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Legislative Action/Networking



FRIENDS OF WISCONSIN STATE PARKS (FWSP)
Legislative Action/Networking
Networking with Friends Groups is one of the most important strategic initiatives FWSP has. Healthy, growing and dynamic chapters are critical to the success of park and trail properties.FWSP started the networking process by assigning one or more chapters to each board member. Board members will discuss

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hunting and Trapping in Parks and Trails



Hunting and Trapping in Parks and Trails- The Wisconsin Legislature passed and Governor Walker signed into law ACT 168,  the Hunting Heritage Bill. A bizarre last-minute amendment included opening all State parks and trails to hunting & trapping.  The legislature handed off the rulemaking to the DNR’S Natural Resources Board (NRB). The NRB did the

Sunday, October 1, 2017

GPR Funding



Friends of WI State Parks (FWSP) is a 501c3 organization that represents WI residents that use parks and trails. There are approximately 80 Friends Groups that support various state parks, trails, and forest properties. These local Friends Groups provide thousands of volunteer hours and have delivered approximately $100M dollars to help support the mission

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Recreation Opportunities Analysis (ROA)




Dear Friends Groups-
The DNR is embarking on a study, known as the Recreation Opportunities Analysis (ROA), to review existing outdoor-based recreation opportunities and future recreation needs.http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Lands/RecAnalysis/ This is an excellent occasion to engage DNR leadership and have an impact on parks and trails. Some of the goals are:
  • ensure that DNR resources are