Tag Archives: state parks

Wisconsin state park fees to go up

It’s going to cost more to get into Wisconsin state parks in the new year.

State budget provisions raising park admission and trail fees go into effect on Jan. 1. Wisconsin residents will have to pay $28 for an annual park pass, up from $25, and $8 for daily admission, up from $7. Annual trail passes will increase from $10 to $25 and daily trail passes will go from $4 to $5. 

Other laws that go into effect on Jan. 1 include:

• provisions creating a sales tax exemption on construction materials for government buildings.

• allowing researchers access to data on Milwaukee’s voucher school program participants.

• transferring oversight of community-based juvenile justice programs from the Department of Corrections to the Department of Children and Families.

Happy trails: More campers using state parks this year

New figures show a record number of campers visited Wisconsin state parks this year.

More than 159,000 campsites were used according to registrations by the state Department of Natural Resources through the first weekend of October. DNR section chief Chris Pedretti says that includes more than 388,000 nights of camping in state parks. The numbers beat previous records set in 2012.

The numbers don’t include the Columbus Day weekend when campers are enjoying the fall colors. The State Journal  says the numbers for registration and nights stayed include about 5,000 campsites in 54 state parks and southern forests. 

Experts say good weather and a weak economy fueled the rise in campers this year. 

Slippery slope: Budget imperils natural resources | WiG cover story

Despite Wisconsin’s deep partisan divide, there’s one area of policy on which the state’s Republicans and Democrats emphatically agree: conservation.

Maintaining the state’s pristine, spectacular natural resources is that rare goal that rises above political wrangling. A bipartisan statewide poll released on March 18 by the Nature Conservancy, an environmental protection group, showed that Wisconsinites of both parties overwhelmingly support continuing state funding for land, water and wildlife conservation. Seventy-six percent of Republicans, 88 percent of independents and 97 percent of Democrats said the state should continue making such investments.

The findings create something of a dilemma for the state’s Republican leaders. They are faced with a budget presented by Gov. Scott Walker that’s anything but supportive of Wisconsin’s great outdoors.

Walker already has cut current funding for the state’s bipartisan Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, a public land acquisition and access program that reserves woodland, wetlands and shorelines for the public. His proposed biennial budget goes even farther, calling for the stewardship program to be suspended for 13 years. 

The cut represents less than 0.5 percent of Wisconsin’s General Purpose Revenue expenditures — an amount smaller than the cost of a fishing license or state park sticker for every resident in the state.

“Nearly 9 in 10 Wisconsin voters believe that, even when the budget is tight, the state should continue to invest in protecting Wisconsin’s land, water and wildlife,” said Lori Weigel from Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the survey on behalf of the conservancy. ”Most voters also said that one of the best things state government does is protect Wisconsin’s natural areas, outdoor recreation and history in state parks and other public lands.”

‘Taking the public out’

Given Walker’s policy inclinations, conservationists fear that suspending public land acquisition puts the state on a slippery slope that will lead to the sale of priceless wilderness and green spaces. The state’s park lovers interpret other items in the budget as a move toward privatization of the system, an approach that’s been tried — and has failed — in other states.

In his budget bill, Walker proposes cutting all general purpose tax funding of the park budgets, which currently amounts to $4.6 million. The governor apparently wants either to force the system to become self-supporting or to privatize its management, which would turn the parks and their concessions — gift shops, firewood sales, etc. — over to for-profit businesses, say critics of the cut.

“Self-sufficiency is a noble cause, but it cannot be accomplished in the present year,” wrote Bill Zager, president of the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks, in a letter to supporters. The proposed cut, he said, would prevent the parks from functioning at a level that users expect, even with the huge network of volunteers who have helped the parks survive prior budget cuts.

The parks once received 50 percent of their support from the state, but that amount has already declined to 21 percent, according to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

“The parks are owned by the state’s taxpayers. You can’t just say that you don’t want to take care of them,” Zager said. Members of FWSP groups already pitch in to help with the costs. The groups have raised $540,000 and provided nearly 187,000 volunteer hours to help maintain the parks.

Zager said his group is in favor of accepting corporate donations, which are already helping to pay for park improvements. “But there is not a mechanism in place to make (corporate donations) work for day-to-day operating costs at this time,” he pointed out in his letter.

Like other groups, his is opposed to selling naming rights of state lands to corporate sponsors. 

To help make up for the loss of state funding, the proposed budget would increase fees for an annual state park pass from $25 to $28 and raise camping fees by $2 per night. Visitors would have to pay an additional fee of $9.70 just to make reservations. While that might not seem like much, it would deter poorer families from visiting the parks and reduce the amount of money that visitors spend at local businesses.

Handing the parks over to private management would raise fees further, since companies are structured to make profits.

“The park system is really there for the average Wisconsinite who doesn’t have the ability to buy lakefront property,” said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. “The parks provide an opportunity for the people to enjoy nature. Walker really is creating a state for the elite … where the rich have things and the rest of us don’t.”

Another controversial item in Walker’s budget calls for turning the Department of Natural Resources into an advisory board with no decision-making authority. That role would be shifted to Walker’s administration. 

Conservationists are not happy about the proposal. Walker’s record has stirred intense anger among environmentalists. He eased the mine permitting process after Gogebic Taconite made a $700,000 donation to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which benefits state Republicans, and he’s suing President Barack Obama’s administration over new regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.

“There’s a lot of outrage,” Hiniker said. “Walker is taking the public out of the management of state resources. Wisconsin’s land management was always built on the idea that we’d have public input and a public voice to make sure that politics didn’t get in the way of managing the parks in the best interest of the environment. Management of our resources used to be beyond politics. Now we have a management style that allows all kinds of political issues to trump the people’s interests.”

Anti-science purges

An additional item in Walker’s budget that is causing anger calls for the elimination of 66 positions from the DNR — one-quarter of them held by scientists whose research and knowledge are essential to properly managing the state’s wildlife and natural resources, from bobcat populations to old growth forests.

Critics question whether Walker’s attack on the DNR — and its scientists in particular — is payback for the agency’s work on climate change, which state Republicans deny is occurring, as well as for the limits DNR officials have set on hunting and their opposition to mining operations that use caustic chemicals near sensitive wetlands and sources of drinking water.

In 2013, Walker signed the Koch brothers “no climate change action” pledge, according to Jim Rowen’s blog The Political Environment. When Walker appointed real estate developer Cathy Stepp to head the DNR, he openly crowed that she was tapped because he wanted someone with “a chamber of commerce mentality,” Rowen wrote.

Critics contend that Walker doesn’t want science getting in the way of profits for his cronies. Whatever the motivation, it’s impossible to detangle science from environmental management.

“Any real natural resources protection is based on sound science,” Amber Meyer Smith, director of programs and government relations for Clean Wisconsin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The more science you remove from the process, the more politics you add.”

Meyer Smith told the Journal Sentinel that the science cuts to the DNR and Walker’s proposed $300 million budget slash to the University of Wisconsin system share a troubling characteristic — hostility toward intellectual work. 

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters executive director Kerry Schumann holds out hope that Walker’s cuts to conservation and the park system can yet be avoided. She’s heard criticism of Walker’s plan from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. “People like (Assembly Speaker) Robin Voss are being very vocal in opposing this,” she said.

“Right now, even money that has already been approved and allocated for land purchases isn’t being spent,” Schumann said. “They’re being held up even though the money is there. First (Walker) cut funding to the stewardship program, then didn’t make the land purchases and now there’s a complete freeze. There’s this slippery slope that makes you wonder where it’s all headed.”

Hiniker is less optimistic that the governor can be persuaded to change his stance.

“For one month, 100,000 people were chanting outside the Capitol and it didn’t change a damn thing,” Hiniker said. “Walker has shown that he’s immune to protests.”

Parks’ economic role

A majority of those surveyed said that protecting Wisconsin’s natural resources is important to a healthy economy, and the numbers agree. The stewardship program protects many of the natural resources on which Wisconsin’s $13 billion tourism industry, $22 billion forestry industry and $4 billion hunting and fishing industry depend, according to WLCV. Recreation also is high on the list of amenities that attract businesses to the state.

Park visitors help support rural economies that have few other ways to generate revenue.

“When a family goes to a state park, they spend an average of $230 on the businesses around the park,” Schumann said. The revenue is dependable and steadily growing. Visits to state parks have risen 12 percent since 2002, even as funding for the parks has declined.

The state’s park system includes 46 state parks, 14 state trails, four recreational areas, eight state forests and two national scenic trails. In addition to the tourists who visit Wisconsin’s scenic wonders, the state is home to an enthusiastic population of hikers, campers, backpackers, snowmobilers, kayakers, boaters, rock climbers, hunters, anglers, cross-country skiers, birdwatchers, picnickers and others who enjoy outdoor recreation — or just the peace of communing with nature.

Wisconsin’s parks and green spaces are as essential to the state’s identity as beer and cheese. Indeed, the very name of Wisconsin’s land stewardship fund reflects the state’s deeply rooted bipartisan ties to conservation. Former Democratic Gov. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, and Republican Gov. Warren Knowles were its inspiration.

Wisconsin has produced several important conservationists. In addition to Nelson and Knowles, the list of Wisconsin conservationists includes the legendary John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Nina Leopold Bradley and Hilary “Sparky” Waukau, a member of the Menomonee Nation who helped save the northern part of Wisconsin from becoming a nuclear waste dump. Perhaps those historical figures helped to establish the outdoorsy culture that the Nature Conservancy’s survey found among state residents.

But the Walker budget rejects this tradition.

“When it comes to conservation, this budget is absolutely terrible,” Schumann said.

Wisconsin may sell naming rights for state parks

The secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says she’s considering selling naming rights to state parks.

The sales could take place in the next two years, according to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, who testified recently at a legislative budget hearing. She told the Legislature’s budget committee that she’s looking ways to raise money for state parks.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposes eliminating tax support for the public parks and raising fees for admission and camping.

Now Stepp has told lawmakers that everything’s on the table in terms of raising funds, including naming rights.

Assembly Democrats Chris Taylor and Gordon Hintz, both members of the Joint Committee on Finance, on March 3 released a joint statement: “After four years of budget mismanagement, the governor and his administration are pulling out all the stops to make us see the $2.2 billion Walker deficit through rose-colored glasses. Apparently freezing the Stewardship Program, kneecapping the DNR board and raising user fees is not enough. Now the governor and his DNR secretary may intend to sell off naming rights to our state’s public parks to the highest bidder.

“Wisconsinites value their unique heritage and pristine nature of state parks and recreation areas. No one is asking for a corporate sell-out of our state parks. Rather than eliminating our commitment to Wisconsin’s shared values, we should continue to make smart investments in the numerous outdoor opportunities that generate $1 billion in economic activity each year. Wisconsin is a great place to work and play, and is a destination for visitors from around the globe. Let’s keep it that way.”

WiGWired: Cach-ing in at state parks

With the sport of geocaching continuing to grow, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Geocaching Association placed “official” caches in 47 state park properties.

“Over the last 12 years, geocaching has become a great way to explore the outdoors using technology,” said Sherry Wise, chief naturalist for the Wisconsin State Parks program.

WGA president Chris Walker estimates there are 2 million geocaches and more than 6 million geocachers worldwide. “With little startup cost, geocaching has become the perfect mix of technology and old school exploration,” Walker said. “You can get started with a smartphone or handheld GPS device.”

The Wisconsin State Park Geocaches Series consists of one geocache in 47 state parks. The geocaches are organized by biomes, which are regions typified by specific plant and animal communities and climate patterns.

For the Wisconsin State Park Geocaches Series, the WGA worked with the property managers or naturalists to select locations for the geocaches that highlight unique or important natural features of the property.

To join the search, people need to join the WGA, which is free at www.wi-geocaching.com.

Once a member, people can visit the WGA website and click on the link for Wisconsin State Park series. From there participants find a code they use with their GPS device to find coordinates for the geocache along with some additional hints for finding the cache.

Once they find the cache, they can add their name to a log stored inside the cache and return it to its hiding spot.

“We hope this is yet another activity that will not only bring visitors to our state park properties, but will get them out to explore areas of the park that they otherwise may never see,” Wise said.

SEARCH AND FIND. Geocaching is one of the most popular apps — for iPhone and Android — used by geocachers. Users enter a Zipcode to search for nearby hidden geocache. Photographs and log entries document their discoveries and earn them points.

CACHER CONNECTIONS. For treasure hunting outside Wisconsin’s state parks, as well as connecting with the community of seekers, Geocaching.com is a popular site that contains dozens of links and listings for Wisconsin.

OFFICIAL WORD. The official Scrabble dictionary is growing by 5,000 words, including Beatbox, buzzkill, chillax, coqui, frenemy, funplex, jockdom, joypad, mixtape, mojito, ponzu, qigong, schmutz, sudoku and yuzu. Geocache was also added, voted in during a Facebook contest.

Hidden gems: Lesser-known state parks for camping, hiking and swimming

Wisconsin’s state park system is so well-known, so well-publicized and so widely admired that it might seem impossible that a few individual parks don’t get the credit they deserve.

Yet, there are definitely less-traveled places offering great trails, views, camping and swimming. Some recommendations:

Camping out

Perrot State Park: Consists of more than 1,200 acres of land surrounded by bluffs. This is where the Mississippi and Trempealeau Rivers meet, and it is a perfect place to set up camp. The park offers a multitude of activities and amenities, including biking, canoeing and hiking. Be sure to hike to Brady’s Bluff for the views of the Mississippi River and Trempealeau Mountain. Or canoe in the calm waters of Trempealeau Bay. W26247 Sullivan Road, Trempealeau.

Rock Island: For a rustic camping experience in Door County, take the ferry from Washington Island to Rock Island. There are no bikes. There are no cars. But there are 40 campsites. The park also features 10 miles of hiking trails and 5,000 feet of beach. 1924 Indian Point Road, Washington.

Hiking along

Amnicon Falls State Park: The park has nearly 2 miles of hiking trails along the river. Amnicon Falls’ stunning geologic formations are the result of earthquakes from a half billion years ago. Along with the prehistoric rock formations, hikers can see evidence of the ancient ocean that once covered Wisconsin, as well as volcanic material. The river trail hike features mini-pools, cascades and waterfalls. The Thimbleberry Nature Trail is a great place to enjoy the forested natural setting of the park. Expect to see wildlife and unique vegetation, including deer, coyote, thimbleberries and Indian Pipe. 4279 County Road U, South Range.

Willow River State Park: The park offers camping, fishing, canoeing and swimming, but its 13 miles of hiking trails showcase the park’s magnificent views. The park has four overlooks with views of the waterfalls and the Willow River gorge. 1034 County Road A, Hudson.

Diving in

Big Foot Beach State Park: The park consists of more than 270 acres, with campsites wooded by tall oaks and a sandy beach with a 100-foot swimming area. The water in Lake Geneva is among Wisconsin’s finest. The park also has a large picnic area, a lagoon for fishing and more than 5 miles of meadow and forest hiking trails. 1452 S Wells St, Lake Geneva.

Source: Travel Wisconsin

Growing the green movement: Earth Day activities, actions, associations

Earth Day, the eco-holiday celebrated around the world on April 22, was pioneered by a U.S. senator from Wisconsin — Democrat Gaylord Nelson.

Nelson, who died in 2005, had wanted to turn attention in the United States to the environment. And so, he pushed for an annual observance to encourage the people on the planet to protect species and spaces by recycling, reusing and, perhaps most importantly, reducing.

In 1970, when the first Earth Day took place, Americans burned leaded gas in massive V8 engines. Factories belched smoke and sludge. Air pollution signaled prosperity. But, with the work of politicians such as Nelson, scientists such as Rachel Carson and a growing network of activists, there was an emerging consciousness about caring for the environment.

Nelson, looking back, would one day say that Earth Day organized itself. An estimated 20 million people participated in that first Earth Day.

This year, at least a billion people are expected to get involved in events and activities planned at local, national and international levels.

A march and rally are set for the weekend after Earth Day, with thousands expected to gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Beyond the beltway in the U.S., organizations were scheduling rallies, marches, lectures, community cleanups, recycling drives, environmental fairs, repurposed art shows and documentary screenings.

The Global Climate Convergence for People, Planet and Peace over Profits is a national campaign that unites social, economic and environmental justice movements for coordinated actions and education — from Earth Day to May Day and beyond. The convergence has coalitions working in more than 40 U.S. cities, including Madison.

Related events include:

• On April 17, at 6 p.m., At the River I Stand, Goodman Public Library, 2222 S. Park St., Madison, screening and discussion of the documentary about the two months before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and King’s role in labor struggles. Information: 608-262-2112.

•  On April 19, from 2 p.m.-1 a.m., Mind Your Mother: Celebrate Earth Day! Mining Alternatives Teach-In, Fundraiser & Live Music Bash, at the Evolution Arts Collective Warehouse Space, 202 South Dickinson St., Madison. There will be anti-mining workshops, a potluck dinner, storytelling, music, door prizes and an auction. Proceeds will benefit the Bad River Legal Defense Fund and Anti-Frac Sand Mining Efforts. 

• On April 21, at noon, Peace Vigil: Environmental Impacts of War, the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Doty Street in front of the post office in Madison. The Madison Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom will feature information about the Environmental Impacts of War.

• April 21, 7 p.m., Water Is Life! Puppet Show and Thistle and Thorns, UW-Madison Memorial Union, evening of folk art and education about frac sands and iron mining in northern Wisconsin hosted by the Madison Infoshop and Madison Action for Mining Alternatives. Information: 608-262-9036.

• On April 22, at 5:30 p.m., the Earth Day March and Rally—Protect our Water – Reject the Mines and Pipelines!, departing from Monona Terrace in Madison. Plans include a march from Monona Terrace to the library mall, a 6:15 p.m. rally at the mall with speakers from 350 Madison, the Madison Action for Mining Alternatives and NoKXL Pledge of Resistance. Also: Call for Peace Drum and Dance Company.

• On April 22, 7 p.m., Rock Bottom in the Age of Extreme Resource Extraction, UW-Madison Memorial Union, Beehive Arts and Design Collective performance about fracking, mining and tar sands.

• On April 23, 7 p.m., Economic Democracy panel discussion, Madison Central Library, 201 W. Mifflin St., involving Dane County TimeBank, Wisconsin Wave and others.

• On April 24, noon, Fossil Free UW Banner Drop, UW campuses around the state, with Fossil Free UW dropping banners calling for divestment from fossil fuel companies. 

• On April 24, 5 p.m., The People’s Speakout at Veterans Plaza/30 on the Square in Madison. There will be speeches, live music, spoken word. The event is being hosted by the IWW Social Action and Solidarity Committee. For more information, call 442-8399 or 815-685-8567.

• On April 24, 7 p.m., a screening of Bidder 70, at 122 State St., Room 200, Madison. The film is about climate justice activist Tim DeChristopher, who served two years in federal prison for taking direct action in 2008 at a BLM auction to stop oil and gas drilling on thousands of acres of public land in Utah. 

• On April 26, the March and Rally for People, Peace and Planet Over Profit, noon, library mall in Madison. The Global Climate Convergence coalition marches through Madison to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, where there will be a rally.

• On March 26, the Sustainable Saturday Night! Family-friendly Potluck, Sustainability Tribute to Pete Seeger, 6 p.m., James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 2146 E. Johnson St., Madison. There will be a community potluck dinner and a sing-along celebrating singer.

• On April 27, from 1-5 p.m., Earth Day for Peace and Justice, Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability, 2299 Spring Rose Road, west of Verona.

• On April 28, 11 a.m., at the state Capitol, Workers’ Memorial Day, an annual event to remember those who lost their lives on the job. 

• On May 1, 3:30 p.m., Brittingham Park in Madison, May Day International Workers Day March and Rally. There will be a march and rally for immigration justice, workers’ rights and a living wage for all. Demonstrators will gather at the park and march to the state Capitol. 

• On May 1, 6 p.m., May Day Celebration, Wil-Mar Center, 953 Jenifer St., Madison. An evening of food, music and speakers.

• On May 3, noon, civil disobedience training for Keystone XL pipeline protests. 

• On May 3, 9 p.m., May Day celebration, Bandung Indonesian Restaurant, 600 Williamson St., Madison. There will be a Mideast by Midwest performance and celebration of workers’ rights.

Other Earth Day events…

• On April 12, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the Wisconsin Green Party holds its spring gathering at the Ambrosia Cooperative, 225 E. Lakelawn Place, Madison. The Global Climate Convergence will participate. And Green Party candidates will talk about their issues. For more, go the Wisconsin Green Party. 

• On April 19, from about 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at John Muir Memorial Park in Montello, there will be a celebration of Muir’s birthday and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Organizers include the Sierra Club, the Wisconsin Friends of John Muir, the Ice Age Trail Alliance, Marquette County Healthy Communities.

• On April 19, the city of Madison sponsors the Earth Day Challenge, with cleanups planned at many parks. For more, call Anne Whisner at the city of Madison at 608-267-4919 or email

• On April 19, Friends of Wisconsin State Parks sponsors a Work Play Earth Day campaign, with activities at many state parks. Volunteers will plant trees and shrubs, install benches, remove invasive plants, stain picnic tables and help with other improvements. Activities also will take place on April 26 and May 3.

• On April 19, the Race Against Extinction fundraiser gets run in Madison to draw attention to environmental issues and bring people outdoors. Runners begin at Vilas Park. Registration is at theraceagainstextinction.org.

• On April 22, the Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference — Earth: To Be Determined — takes place at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison. Registration is underway. Actress and activist Rosario Dawson, sci-fi author China Nieville and ecologists Erle Ellis and Kevin Noon will be featured.

• On April 22, Milwaukee’s Office of Sustainability and Rock the Green hold the third annual Earth Day Celebration with an appearance by Mayor Tom Barrett, a performance by Vic and Gab and a caravan of food trucks. The event takes place 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the City Center, 735 N. Water St., Milwaukee. For more, email

• On April 26, the Milwau Environmental Consortium holds an Earth Day project at Washington Park, 1859 N. 40th St., Milwaukee. Hours are 8 a.m.-1 p.m. The Student Conservation Association at the Urban Ecology Center at Washington Park will complete service projects. For more, email August Ball at or call 414-322-8482.

Read about Gaylord Nelson and the history of Earth Day — and progressive politics in Wisconsin — here.

Have an Earth Day activity or campaign to share? Email . We also welcome announcements of ongoing environmental activities.