State park 's 'off season'

2013-10-21T13:49:00Z 2013-10-21T14:01:05Z State park 's 'off season'By Christine Bryant Times Correspondent
October 21, 2013 1:49 pm  • 

It’s often assumed work at the Indiana Dunes State Park slows down when temperatures drop.

That thought, however, couldn’t be further from the truth, park officials say.

Brandt Baughman, property manager at the state park, said what is traditionally considered the off-season – late fall through early spring – is actually quite busy for staff members.

“In the winter time, that’s when we get our projects done,” he said. “In one manner of speaking, we are busier in the winter than in the summer. That’s when we get our serious work done.”

Warmer weather months at the state park are often filled with greeting the more than 1 million guests that come through the gate’s entrances each year. Many come for the beach, camping and hiking trails, and much of the staff’s work involves maintaining the park and hosting several programs for the public.

“We host daily (summer) programs and weekend free programs to teach folks about the natural and cultural resources in the park,” said Brad Bumgardner, interpretive specialist. “Thousands of school kids move through here in the spring and fall.”

Bumgardner heads up the park’s Nature Center facility, educational programming, special events and volunteer program, and although programming at the park decreases during the winter, it increases outside the park’s gates.

“You see us doing more off-site programs in the community, as well as special trips that we might normally be too busy to do in the summer,” Bumgardner said.

This winter, finishing a bird observation platform is one of several projects staff will complete, Baughman said.

The platform, which will feature a 17-foot elevated deck, will sit on top of a dune near the west boundary of the park. It will be open to the public.

“It is being specifically designed for birders to view birds during their migratory season,” Baughman said.

Staff also will continue work on installing fencing in the picnic areas and finishing a new trail that leads into the park. Depending on the year, some invasive species removal is conducted as well.

“We also provide firewood to our customers, so we spend a great deal of time splitting firewood,” Baughman said.

Despite the additional tasks, the park manages with a much smaller staff during winter months, he said.

While the park employs around 60 seasonal employees during the summer, there are only about half a dozen during the winter months.

“The staff levels go down considerably during the winter,” Baughman said. “We primarily go down to full-time staff with a few seasonal positions to support us at the main gate and for security officers.”

When snow begins to fall, those positions are especially important. The park provides a sledding hill and trails for cross-country skiers, and thousands take advantage during winters with average and above snow fall levels.

“We spend time setting the tracks for cross-country skiers using snow mobiles,” he said. “That’s something we haven’t done much of the last two years.”

When snowfall numbers are high, however, the parks sees an enormous influx in guests compared to other cold weather days.

“I think people would be surprised how busy we are during the winter,” Baughman said. “A nice snowy day being slow is the furthest thing from the truth.”

The Indiana Dunes State Park is over year-round. There is a $5 fee at the gate to enter, though after the first weekend in November, that fee is waived on weekdays through about the end of April, depending on weather.

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