Sunday, September 20, 2020
The opening of Monroe County’s park, McMullen Memorial County Park, was delayed this year due to COVID-19 and it has seen a decline in revenue and attendance this year. Contributed photo.

McMullen Park sees a decrease in revenues in the wake of COVID

McMullen Memorial County Park was the first county park in Monroe County. Traditionally, the park opens with an annual clean-up day the last Saturday of April, however, this year looked a little different. 

The 2020 camping season at McMullen Park was delayed until May 15 this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 1958, Lester McMullen, chairman of the Monroe County Board of Supervisors, appointed a committee to survey the county forest for areas that could be made into a park. 

The present site of what is now McMullen Park was the only area with a suitable water site, however, the site was not perfect at first as the only access was by a narrow dirt road that was only passable for part of the year and the lake flooded a heavily wooded area, but in the fall of 1958, construction of the park began. 

The lake level was lowered, roads were cut out, dead trees were removed, toilets were constructed and a well was drilled for water.  

At that time, the park was named Wazeda Park, but in 1971, after McMullen passed away, the County Board officially changed the name of the park in his memory and the lake it sits next to is now listed by the State of Wisconsin as Wazeda Lake.  

The park features a 60-acre campground with 71 campsites that offer both electrical and water hookups, a park shelter, playground areas, a 50-acre lake with a boat launch and fishing pier as well as a swimming beach, hiking trails, privies and a shower facility. 

This year, the facilities available were slightly limited to promote the best interest of the public and visitors to the park were told to plan on being self-contained.

According to Parks & Forestry Director Chad Ziegler, there were several conversations between his department, the county administrator and the county’s health department regarding reopening the park.

“We were trying to see what we could do and still be responsible as far as the safety of the campers and my employees,” Ziegler said. 

As the park reopened in mid-May, it did so with several, temporary regulations and policies in place to promote the health and safety of visitors. All of the public spaces were closed including the swimming beach, the playground areas, the park shelter and the bathrooms

“Originally when we opened, we were going to have everyone be completely self-contained,” Ziegler added. “Now, just about everything has been reopened.” 

Multiple units are now allowed on a campsite, however, the maximum number of campers on a site is limited to nine. Campers are asked to stay on their designated sites and visiting other campsites is discouraged. 

“Normally, all of our sites are group sites,” Ziegler explained. “When we first opened, we made all of the campsites single-unit sites and then sometime in June we ended up opening them up a bit more.”

As the shower facilities at the park still remain closed, visitors are allowed to use the privies at the park or provide their own toilet for waste, which can be disposed of at the park’s dump station. 

“We’re pretty much back to normal operations with the exception of the shower building,” Ziegler said.

Due to limited operations and increased policies, McMullen Park has seen a decrease in revenues. The first month after the park opened it was down about 50 percent in its revenue, according to Ziegler. 

Now, the park’s revenues and attendance are down about 25 percent from last year.

The park’s annual expenses are roughly $100,000 for salaries, supplies and maintenance. All of the revenue from camping fees and sales of firewood and ice goes back into operating and maintaining the park.

 If there is any revenue left over at the end of the year, the park also has a fund for long-term capital improvement projects.

“In June, July and August it didn’t seem like we were as busy as normal, but our attendance and revenue showed that we did really well,” Ziegler said. “We didn’t lose a lot of ground during those months, but I’m anticipating we’ll be slow in September because of the cancellation of Warrens Cranberry Festival, which is usually our busiest week of the year.” 

McMullen Park is scheduled to remain open until late November for Wisconsin’s rifle deer hunting season. 

“Opening weekend can be popular and then we pretty much wrap things up,” Ziegler said. “It gets to the point where it’s below freezing and people have zero or very little interest to be out camping.” 

As per the county’s policy, camping and day use activities could be shut down at any time and campsites may be closed to maintain acceptable population levels in the campground.

“We definitely weren’t as busy this year as we were last year, but all in all I think we did okay,” Ziegler said. “For the most part we have most of our regulars back and I think there’s a percentage of the population that’s being pretty cautious and those folks are tending to stay home more.”

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