County parks gearing up for start of 2017 season

SEARS — After the most successful season on record, Osceola County Parks staff are busy at work in preparation for the opening of the camping season.

There's but a few days to put the finishing touches on projects at both Rose Lake and Crittenden parks, as campers are slated to show up on Friday, May 12, said Parks Director Carl Baumgras.

"Most of the staff are people who are retired and want something to do," he said. "There's a lot of work to get done with about a week to go."

From having to replace an electrical line and water heaters and setting up the new playground equipment at Crittenden to finishing the new entrance and gate station at Rose Lake, Baumgras said staff members have been busy since early April to get the parks ready for patrons.

"The moment we began taking reservations on Jan. 1, it was looking like it was going to be a good season for us," he said. "Memorial Day at both parks is pretty much booked up.

"Last year, we made the most money ever and it looks like it could be another record year for us."

Baumgrass said many of the early campers at Crittenden Park show up for the fishing.

"They'll stay a week and do nothing but fish the lake," he said. "There's some good walleye, pike and crappie fishing. A couple years ago, the Department of Natural Resources stocked the lake with walleye, and we're seeing some pretty big ones come out of there."

Last season saw the renovation to the mini-golf course at Rose Lake, and this year, Baumgras said staff will have new playground equipment ready to go for kids at Crittenden.

"We received a grant from the Osceola County Community Foundation for the equipment," he said. "We're going to have to dig out an old swing set to put it in, but the kids will really enjoy it."

Crittenden Park has a building utilized as a mini concession stand, which also serves as a place for kids to come watch movies, Baumgras said.

"We really get busy when the kids get out of school," he said. "The Fourth of July is usually pretty packed at both parks."

While Rose Lake is located on 48 acres of land, Crittenden is smaller and is on 10 acres.

"We have some older campers come here," he said. "However, everything we do is geared to be family-friendly. We always keep kids in mind and want to keep them interested and have things for them to do."

Baumgras added among items being discussed is having a recreation director to coordinate activities at both parks.

"That's just one of the things we are looking at," he said. "The staff at the parks are there to make sure things are going well. Having someone around to set things up for kids would be really nice."

Crittenden has two paddle boats and two row boats available for rental, as well as a pavilion, Baumgras said.

"We're pretty well tapped out on space at Crittenden," he said. "We have people who like to walk or bike down to the Pere Marquette State Trail and walk or bike.

"Another thing people like about Crittenden is from anywhere at the park, you can see the water and across the park," he said. "People can keep an eye on their kids while they are playing.

"Many of the campers have been coming here so long, they're neighbors and they all know each other."

With the season right around the corner, Baumgras said there are some seasonal spaces left at the two parks.

"We'll keep them open for the next couple of weeks before we start giving them out for daily use," he said.

One major undertaking for staff each spring is making sure everything is in good working order before campers arrive, Baumgras explained.

"When you're open six months and then closed for six months, there are things that have to be done," he said. "There are things that need to looked at, fixed, repainted, tested and replaced."

The parks director said officials have to be practical and smart about what improvements and projects they plan for the county parks.

"We run totally on receipts," he said. "We have a small budget that we work with, but when things come up, from maintenance or if we have to replace something, we've got to pay for them."

However, Baumgras said it doesn't hinder officials from looking at ways to improve the parks for the campers.

"We continue to grow and see a lot of people, many of them returning year after year," he said. "A lot of it is by word of mouth. And you have to have things kids enjoy doing when they are here. The kids are important. If they are having fun, they are going to want to come back again and again."

Baumgras said park staff is looking for additional volunteers to help throughout the summer.

“We'd like to have seasonal volunteers at the parks,” he said. “If you volunteer for 26 hours, you get a week's worth of free camping. You can build it up an hour at a time or throughout a couple of days."

Baumgras said staff members at both parks utilize Facebook, highlighting activities or the latest, greatest catch, to keep campers and the public aware of what is happening at the park.

"We're always thinking of ways to engage future campers," he said.