State park price hike met with mixed emotions

Devil’s Lake north shore beach reopens after levels of E. coli return to safe zone

As they enjoyed a beautiful holiday weekend Saturday camping out, Devil’s Lake Memorial Day campers had mixed feelings about a Republican-backed proposal to raise admission and camping rates at all state parks.

“It’s OK as long as you see it when you come here,” Spring Green camper Brian Strait said. “Like new bathrooms. New showers.”

While Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to end state parks funding based on tax dollars failed, Republican finance committee members pushed through a similar plan that, if approved by the full legislature, would raise park admission rates by $3, increase camping fees anywhere from $3-$11 per night, depending on the location’s popularity and a visitor’s residency, and add an additional $5 for electricity.

Committee members feel the idea will make state parks more self-sufficient.

“I don’t think it would stop me necessarily from coming, but it might affect the length of stay that I come.” Chicago camper Krissy Sicker, who would be hardest hit by the hike, said. “It would just be unfortunate and affect the length of stay.”

For instance, the potential $73 an out-of-state Devil’s Lake traveler would pay in total, after their proposed $38 admission, $25 per night camping fee and $10 for electricity is nearly double what private facilities like Wanna Bee Camprground and RV Park in Wisconsin Dells are charging.

“We have basic tent sites that range from $29 (per night) all the way to our full hookup sites that pull through 50-amp/30-amp services they range all the way up to $48 (per night),” Wanna Bee owner Jessica Kortbein said.

“It allows the state and private business to be more equitable. Because it’s what we have to charge to make ends meet from a business standpoint,” Kortbein’s husband Brad said. “So that’s why I think it’s good. Make it closer. More equitable. So we do get the possibility to have the same campers come that do go to a state park.”

Wanna Bee campers like Greg Quade, from Rock County, prefer the private campground over a state park, like Devil’s Lake.

“You’ve got to be in, shut your music off at 10 p.m. And people don’t want to go to bed at 10 p.m. They want sit out,” Quade said. “Like we had a fire out yesterday morning until 2 a.m. The music was real low. It’s just respectable.”

Quade considers the nearly $2,000 per season he spends at Wanna Bee a bargain compared to the nearly $3,200 he says other private facilities would charge him.

“Very reasonable,” Quade said.

Fellow Chicago Camper Doug Gallow says the price difference would not be enough to move him away from Wisconsin state parks.

“I would say the natural element is the bigger deal. I think we would probably choose to come to more state campsites,” Gallow said. “But it might affect the duration of our stay if they really did start hiking out-of-state rates.”

However, campers, like Strait, are worried about what they feel are unforeseen consequences the legislative action could mean for private sector businesses.

“They’ll become too commercialized. Prices will increase dramatically,” Strait said. “At the end of the day it isn’t going to be that way If you go to a private park, it’s going to cost you a lot more money to go to them.”

The Kortbeins, who have not raised their prices in the four years they have owned the sixty year old Wanna Bee campground, say they have no future plans to increase rates.

Because the Republican controlled finance committee passed this proposal, it is likely now to receive Walker’s signature when he sign’s the budget bills into law.