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Willow River State Park gets $2 million upgrade

The earth-moving project at Willow River State Park that began mid-September includes construction of a new park entrance and visitors station, two new campgrounds and replacement of the beach curb.

"I think we did a lot of things right," said park manager Darrel Richer.

Those things include orientation and insulation of the building, parking, traffic flow and separating the entrance from a trail head.

The new visitors station is 1,750 square feet, three times larger than the existing one, and it will include public restrooms and an area for more displays.

The road design is for flow and to ease congestion. It moves the visitor station in front of the new campground entrances.

Along with the new visitors station, a new campground is also currently under construction, Campground B (east) will have 50 campsites available for tent campers, trailers and recreational vehicles. Some of the sites will offer electrical hook-ups.

"By state law, only 25 percent of the campsites in the park can be electric," said Richer. "There is a movement to change that, but purists say you don't need it. The reality is you should provide for what the campers are using."

Campground B will have modern shower facilities and flush toilets.

The visitors station is expected to open April 1. As soon as it is open, construction can begin on Campground A (west), which is located where the current park office is. That project will add another 30 campsites and will have toilets but no showers. Both campgrounds are expected to open in spring 2010. According to Richer, it takes a year for the grass to get established.

"The bids were awarded to local contractors this time, and it has worked well for us," said Richer. "It helps having them on site and it helps the local economy as well since it is a $2 million dollar project."

With an eye toward the cost of asphalt, planners are using as much of the existing road as possible.

The campground sites, however, have almost no trees.

"We have an extensive planting plan designed to improve sight lines," said Richer. "There will be 826 shrubs planted and 362 trees in the campgrounds. Species include red and silver maple, oak, pine, linden, cherry, poplar and quaking aspen."

According to Richer, the planting design and the species were selected to prevent any widespread species-specific problem such as oak wilt.

"With lots of care, fertilizer, water and deer protection, in 15 to 20 years the campgrounds will be quite different," said Richer, who manages Kinnickinnic State Park as well.

Richer started there in 1980 and took over Willow River State Park in 1998-99. New staff changes include Aaron Mason, recently hired as assistant park manager (he was the operations manager for five years). Jeff Bolte remains the service associate. Mathew Densow was hired as the operations manager and Garrett Meader is the assistant manager at Kinnickinnic.

"Every day there are lots of opportunities for everyone of us to teach campers about the environment," said Richer.

Willow River State Park has 350,000 visitors annually and it has the highest turnaway rate of all the parks in Wisconsin.

When the two new campgrounds are completed, the total number of campsites will be 150, and Richer predicts they will fill up the first year they are open.