March 16, 2020

Improving Experiences in State Parks One Bubbler and Bathroom at a Time

While over 17 million annual visitors take advantage of the more than 100 Parks, Forests, Recreation Areas and Trails in the State Park System, these properties encourage every visitor to create their own experience.

Most visitors explore the parks by foot, but others tackle the trails by bike or horseback. Some check-out the local lake or river with a swim at the beach, while others let a paddle take them further out. With hundreds of miles of fully accessible trails and other accommodations, visitors with accessibility-challenges can still enjoy some of the finest natural habitats and recreational opportunities this state has to offer.

Whether you catch the overlooks right off park roads or venture down a trail for more hidden sights, Wisconsin’s State Park System has plenty of breathtaking views. Some visitors will use one of fifty selfie stations to share their experience with friends and family, and others will even enjoy a night or two in one of the more than 5,000 campsites.

With spring just on the horizon, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s already looking forward to spending more time outdoors. But even in the dead of winter, visitors still enjoy our Parks by cross-country skis, snowshoes, or even just a scenic drive.

The financial impact of these properties is massive. A 2013 report attributed over 8,200 jobs, $350 million in income, and $1 billion in spending to State Parks. Our public lands are economic drivers in-part because Wisconsin ranks first in the Midwest for outdoor recreation.

While visitors come to these properties for the sights and sounds, to take in some fresh air, and to escape the hustle of daily life, depleted water infrastructure can detract from the relaxation visitors’ seek. Further, contaminated water could impact the visitor’s experience and their plans to visit other State Parks in the future, potentially harming our entire outdoors-based tourism industry.

That’s why last session I authored the Parks Revitalization Act with Representative Ron Tusler (R-Harrison). This law, 2017 Wisconsin Act 71, provided $4.5 million in unspent Stewardship bonding from prior years to some of the most frequented State Parks to complete critical health and safety water infrastructure projects. Act 71 is now replacing dozens of vault toilets, drinking water fixtures, septic systems, and water lines, most of which are over sixty-years old.

Not only will replacing this aging infrastructure help to ensure the delivery of clean water to State Park visitors, but by replacing some dilapidated outhouse facilities, we can prevent septic waste from polluting ground and surface water in these pristine landscapes.

After clearing part of the backlog, there was still more water infrastructure projects in need of funding. This session, I authored 2019 Senate Bill 125, the Parks Revitalization Act 2.0, with Representatives Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) and Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) to provide an additional $5.2 million from a similar funding stream to clear more of the water infrastructure project backlog. Signed into law recently as Act 93, this effort shows the continued commitment by my co-authors and I towards completing these necessary projects.

We all enjoy our State Parks, Forests, Recreational Areas, and Trails, but we also know they could use a little work. Funding for water facility and infrastructure upgrades in the Parks Revitalization Acts will help to improve visitor experiences, promote parks-based tourism, and protect the health and safety of millions of State Park visitors for decades to come.

I plan to keep looking for ways to give our State Parks’ infrastructure the boost it needs to keep residents and visitors coming back to State Parks both down the road and across the state.


Column Published in Midwest Silent Sports Magazine.