Although the popularity of Minnesota's state parks and trails has steadily increased in recent years, rising expenses and reductions to the system's general fund have caused the DNR to implement concomitant cost cutting measures. Up until recently the already bare bones makeup of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park has allowed the local institution to largely avoid such cuts, but now a state-wide push to consolidate park management is beginning to make an impact here at home.
The first observable change came this past week as Upper Sioux Agency State Director Terri Dinesen began a new job as Park Director for Big Stone, Lac qui Parle and Upper Sioux Agency State Parks. A more predominantly noticeable effect for park visitors may very well be felt come winter when the park may begin to seasonally close.
Twenty-two years ago Dinesen came on as Director of Upper Sioux Agency State Park after a decade long stint working in the DNR Forestry Division. It's a job she says she's enjoyed thoroughly and would have continued to perform––if the push toward consolidation wasn't turning the Upper Sioux Agency State Park directorship into a part-time seasonal position.
"I have two graduated from college and one going in, so I'm not ready for retirement," she explained.
Dinesen said that larger parks, like that of Camden and Lake Shetek, were the first to be hit with large reductions in labor staffing. "We've always been a skeleton crew, so they couldn't do much to us. We were already small, lean and mean," she said with a chuckle.
"But now they are clustering," she continued. "And instead of cutting labor staff, they're cutting management."
For Big Stone, Lac qui Parle and Upper Sioux this means that the former four managers in charge of the parks has been reduced to one full-time manager, two seasonal managers and a specialist.
"For this park, in the summer, I think it's going to continue to stay very stable. They tried not to affect summer visitation," she said. "The touchy part is that this park is seasonal."
While Lac qui Parle will remain open all year long, the prospect of a seasonal park at Upper Sioux Agency means that there may no longer be the availability of groomed snowmobile, cross country and ski trails, as well as winter camping and access to the sled hill. For Big Stone, which does not provide such winter offering, the change is less of a concern.
"Does seasonal mean shut the gates no body goes in? Dinesen asked rhetorically. "Does seasonal mean plow around the loop at the visitor center here so that at least visitor's can come in to the park and use the sledding hill? What does that mean? I can't answer that yet."
Page 2 of 2 - One possible solution is to fill some of the labor gap with volunteer help. The local "Friends" group at Glacial Lakes State Park has been allowed by the Parks and Trails division to groom trails and perform some other maintenance, and so its conceivable that local organization "Friends of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park" might step up to work out some sort of arrangement too.
Dinesen says that she is not yet aware of how much say she'll have on such matters, and that when and if an individual is hired as seasonal manager it may help determine the course of things. That position is currently in the process of being assessed, but Dinesen said that it would likely be filled from roughly mid-April to mid-October.
Rolling with the punches, Dinesen remains upbeat about the change. More than anything she expects that she will miss the opportunity to interact with park visitors wherein she is able to help educate them of the area's unique offerings and history––something that she has become a resident expert on in her 22 years.
Of course, that pendulum swings both ways and so it will be park visitors who will be without the 22 years of experience too. And given that a seasonal position would largely be expected to be a revolving door––where whoever is hired is constantly looking to move on to a all-year gig––that experience may never be replaced.
"I'm nervous for the future of this park," said Dinesen. "But they've told me they're doing the best they can to disrupt the least amount of people, so we'll see."