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Thread: Is New Baxter State Park Director Hurting Operations?

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Is New Baxter State Park Director Hurting Operations?

    I did my annual trip to Baxter this week, staying at Roaring Brook walk in sites from Mon to today. I have to say the operation did not seem as crisp as it has been on past visits.

    The most obvious thing was the outhouses - they were filthy and not maintained daily. The one closest to us was not touched the entire week (and apparently well before that based on a conversation my wife had with a neighboring camper). The feminine hygiene product bin was overflowing, there was scraps of toilet paper on floor and it never had toilet paper at any point. Most of the other outhouses were at least getting toilet paper but it was always low and they were generally dirty. The one in the parking lot had a dirty water-logged cotton sock on the floor all week. In all my prior visits to Baxter I've found the outhouses pretty clean and well maintained. And the campground was pretty quiet - lot of vacancies the whole time we were there. Could be my imagine too but it seemed like there was a lot of trash in the parking areas (relatively speaking). I didn't really notice it at first until my wife pointed it out.

    There didn't appear to be much of a ranger presence either. Our first night there a ranger came and confirmed we were here. On all the following nights when other people came we never saw them. There were pretty wide spread bear violations (food on tables, trash out, etc). Considering they've had daily bear visits there and have brought a trap in to capture and relocate it you'd think the staff would be more vigilant paying attention to this stuff. On our last night a family pitched one of those triangular hammock shelters that suspends over the ground and basically attached it by ratcheting down thick straps on tree trunks. They put it up and down several times before success. I don't imagine cranking down those straps on live trees is very good for the bark. I was surprised they allowed that kind of shelter - and maybe they don't but no one checked. They were at the trail head check in every morning but that seemed to be it.

    Lastly, the fire wood was horrible this year. Was all pine and clearly not well seasoned. Some pieces literally dripped water. It took a lot of kindling and time to build a sufficiently hot enough fire to burn the logs. Lots of hissing, crackling and exploding embers flying all over the place periodically. I could literally put birch bark on the coals and there was so much moisture hissing from the wood it wouldn't light. Take it out of the fire and put your lighter to it and it burst into flames. Maybe I just remember it wrong but I remember the bundles having hard woods and even separate cedar bundles to use as kindling. Took almost no effort to get logs burning. We talked to several inexperienced campers who couldn't get their fires started at all and there was an unusually large amount of leftover wood in sites when people checked. I presume that was why.

    All in all it is still a great spot and we had a great week but it got me wondering if the new leadership might be consciously or unconsciously changing the focus of the park and the quality of the experience. Hoping we just caught a bad week. Anyone else been this year and noticed the change?

    P.S. The bugs are INSANE right now. Never seen so many people wearing head nets and sitting in their tents.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 46/48; NY 46: 6/46

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    There isn't a seasonal employer in the State of Maine who has enough help. Period.

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Breeze View Post
    There isn't a seasonal employer in the State of Maine who has enough help. Period.
    Do you know specifically though if Baxter has less staff this year/under the new director? I don't feel like I saw less people overall. It just seems like they weren't doing what they normally did. The bridge over Roaring Brook to Sandy Stream was closed due to damage so they built a temporary replacement and they were also building an addition on the crew cabin while we were there but I don't believe these were the rangers.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 46/48; NY 46: 6/46

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    That is too bad, looking at last years report it took awhile for the new director to be selected and the park was running short staffed. Sound like they did not hit this season running.

    Of late I stick to the backcountry and avoid the summit trailhead/campgrounds as they are inherently a zoo. They did have a lot of long term seasonal staff that may have not come back due to the management disarray.

    BTW its perfectly legal to cut dead and downed wood in the park. I always just stop at a wide spot in the road (plenty of old pull outs) and use my hand saw to cut wood to bring back to the campsite. They did used to sell bundles of hardwood and softwood hardwood for cooking and softwood for campfires but I never felt it was great wood. You cant bring firewood into the park but you can bring processed wood like 2x4 ends and scraps from a wood shop. It needs to have no bark, and saw or planed into a board to pass muster. I always bring a box and use it to get my fire going. My guess is since the new director was promoted the SFMA manager that handles the wood supply is also new.

    You rarely if ever will see a full time ranger in summer, its mostly seasonal staff meeting the public and the full timers are running around dealing with problems.

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    That is too bad, looking at last years report it took awhile for the new director to be selected and the park was running short staffed. Sound like they did not hit this season running.

    Of late I stick to the backcountry and avoid the summit trailhead/campgrounds as they are inherently a zoo. They did have a lot of long term seasonal staff that may have not come back due to the management disarray.

    BTW its perfectly legal to cut dead and downed wood in the park. I always just stop at a wide spot in the road (plenty of old pull outs) and use my hand saw to cut wood to bring back to the campsite. They did used to sell bundles of hardwood and softwood hardwood for cooking and softwood for campfires but I never felt it was great wood. You cant bring firewood into the park but you can bring processed wood like 2x4 ends and scraps from a wood shop. It needs to have no bark, and saw or planed into a board to pass muster. I always bring a box and use it to get my fire going. My guess is since the new director was promoted the SFMA manager that handles the wood supply is also new.

    You rarely if ever will see a full time ranger in summer, its mostly seasonal staff meeting the public and the full timers are running around dealing with problems.
    The campground crowd was fine. I was surprised how few sites and lean to's were taken actually for 4th of July. Tue night only 2 of the walk in sites (counting us) and no lean to's were taken. THU AM when we left all the walk in lean to's were still open and tent site #18. It was the only week my wife could take and I was concerned what the crowd might be like. Lot of casual car campers and families but all very quiet. Day lot had pretty heavy volume and the closure of the Saddle Trail had a lot of people going up Helon Taylor and Knife Edge. Still not too bad though. I left in a group of about 12 people but just lagged back a minute or two and never saw them again. They were pretty fast hikers. After I got to Pamola though I met quite a few people who really didn't seem like they belonged there and weren't entirely aware of the difficulty. Wouldn't be surprised to see reports of rescues coming out of the week. Quite a few people mentioned they planned on descending the Cathedral Trail to come back. I gave them all my two cents on the choice but I don't know that I changed anyone's mind. One older guy claimed to always go down that way because it was shorter than the Saddle. He was already gassed just below Pamola on his way up (It was pretty warm and despite living there and knowing the terrain he didn't seem to have much water with him). Familiar story on so many mountains nowadays. Anyway.....
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 46/48; NY 46: 6/46

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    Senior Member MikePS's Avatar
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    That is too bad. I will be making my annual sojourn the week of the 14th. Started in the 80s, in those days park was staffed with full time Rangers, many you saw year after year. About 15 years ago, it seemed staffing became more transitory. However, I have never seen major trash issues, certainly not outhouses without TP. Hopefully this was just a blip? I will report out what I find in a couple of weeks.

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    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikePS View Post
    That is too bad. I will be making my annual sojourn the week of the 14th. Started in the 80s, in those days park was staffed with full time Rangers, many you saw year after year. About 15 years ago, it seemed staffing became more transitory. However, I have never seen major trash issues, certainly not outhouses without TP. Hopefully this was just a blip? I will report out what I find in a couple of weeks.
    Ditto on hopefully it was a blip. I have never seen anything like that in over 35 years of frequenting Baxter. I would have to agree with Breeze on the employment situation not only being Maine but most of New England. Here in the MWV there are pages of "Help Wanted" adds in The Conway Daily Sun. This use to be unheard of. Not necessarily specific to Baxter but most of the destination resort areas I have traveled to in recent years seem to be suffering for help. IMO it is directly tied to the unavailability of affordable housing, low wages and just an overall disinterest of the younger crowd wanting to work these types of jobs.
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    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    DayTrip, please do write to the Park detailing your complaints. I understand that they might be short-staffed, but unsanitary restrooms and widespread bear-prevention violations are not acceptable.

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    Senior Member ChrisB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TEO View Post
    DayTrip, please do write to the Park detailing your complaints. I understand that they might be short-staffed, but unsanitary restrooms and widespread bear-prevention violations are not acceptable.
    Not to sure how active Friends of Baxter State Park is these days, but I would contact them as well.

    Historically they have had an inside line to Park management and some influence on decision making. They also usually know the latest news and scutlebutt about Park management and policy.

    If a major hub like Roaring Brook is uncared for, what must Russell Pond look like?

    In my work up there I've seen them do they best they can with the resources they have. On my last vol stint a few years ago every toilet between Kidney Pond and Nesowadnehunk was cleaned every day by noon. Period.
    Last edited by ChrisB; 07-07-2019 at 08:34 AM.
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    I had posted this link in the OPs prior BSP thread https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DZ7...MP-Ar1OR9/view which is the 2018 annual report (published in June of 2019)

    Take a look at page 6 and some of the changes the director and the park had to weather last year. The new director wasnt hired until June of 2018 which meant he was just getting up to speed during the busiest time of the year after the position had been vacant for 6 months. He also needed to replace key several positions after the summer was over so he came into this year with a very fresh admin staff. He also notes losing several veterans and higher than expected turnover of seasonal staff. The commentary about professionalizing and standardizing practices to retain institutional knowledge is telling. Reading between the lines it sure sounds like a classic case of a rough start to a season where new folks are trying to fill roles and responsibilities they havent filled before and my not have been aware of. Probably the delay in opening also has thrown a wrench in the works. No doubt the seasonal turnover was not helped by the administrative staff turnover. I expect many of the seasonal staff have other options to work a summer and if they felt they were not appreciated last season that they may have elected to work elsewhere next year.

    I think one of fundamental problems is the park did run so well with limited staff in the past. From the staff I have talked to over the years, they all work really long hours usually 12 hours plus a day. Add in an inexperienced staff and "green administration" I have no doubt that things got off to rough start.

    I would not be worried about Russell Pond, its usage if anything has peaked and has an older crowd, it has always made due with one ranger and it tends to be a popular position for college students. My guess is the day use sites are the ones that get slammed. I am amazed how the ranger at Chimney can keep up with the campers and the heavy day use traffic. Unlike the drive up sites, the outhouse contents need to be transferred and composted on a near daily basis. I expect another subtle change is the DUPR reservations money which used to be "bonus"money in the budget has slowly been incorporated into the park budget to the point where it cant be used to provide extra attention to the locations most impacted by day use. The other issue is in my perception the park has been investing more in infrastructure and the new structures being built are higher quality replacements. This is good for the park in the long run but its easy for the capital budgeting to impact operations. Realistically its lot easier to hire someone to build a new building or hike the backcountry than it is to find someone to clean the outhouses and replace toilet paper seven days a week.

    I also could speculate that they had to manage cash flow a bit differently this year due to loss of the bump in revenue from "opening day reservations" which may not be a huge part of the budget but nevertheless a way of funding upcoming summer commitments early.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 07-07-2019 at 10:23 AM.

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    Senior Member ChrisB's Avatar
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    Given all of the above, this might be a good year to offer your time and energy to the Park as a volunteer for a week or two.

    Their policy in the past was a free day in the Park for each day of service. You could bank the days and use em as desired.

    Plus you get the insider's view of what it is like to run a major recreation facility catering to ALL types of folks!!

    If not you, who? If not now, when?

    (PS Vols do not have to deal with toilets
    Last edited by ChrisB; 07-07-2019 at 11:37 AM.
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    Just got back from a one night stay at Roaring Brook. The only odd thing I noticed was the lack of rangers. No ranger at either Roaring Brook or Chimney Pond either up or back (though I did get a crack of noon start.) Only time I saw a ranger was at the evening walk through...and he was very young.
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    Senior Member ChrisB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by srhigham View Post
    Just got back from a one night stay at Roaring Brook. The only odd thing I noticed was the lack of rangers. No ranger at either Roaring Brook or Chimney Pond either up or back (though I did get a crack of noon start.) Only time I saw a ranger was at the evening walk through...and he was very young.
    In a recent mail I got from the AMC, the following excerpt was included...

    Dan Rinard Departure
    After eight years of service and leadership with AMC's Maine Woods Initiative, Dan Rinard is leaving to take on the chief ranger role at Maine’s Baxter State Park. I have really enjoyed working with Dan. Thanks to his hard work, including his oversight of the construction of Medawisla Lodge and Cabins, AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative has reached new heights. We wish Dan well in this new leadership role and look forward to continuing to work in partnership with him to advance Maine’s outdoors.
    John Judge, President & CEO
    Nobody told me there'd be days like these
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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisB View Post
    In a recent mail I got from the AMC, the following excerpt was included...

    Dan Rinard Departure
    After eight years of service and leadership with AMC's Maine Woods Initiative, Dan Rinard is leaving to take on the chief ranger role at Maine’s Baxter State Park. I have really enjoyed working with Dan. Thanks to his hard work, including his oversight of the construction of Medawisla Lodge and Cabins, AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative has reached new heights. We wish Dan well in this new leadership role and look forward to continuing to work in partnership with him to advance Maine’s outdoors.
    John Judge, President & CEO
    Interesting. Maybe the ship is rudderless at the moment.....
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 46/48; NY 46: 6/46

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    Senior Member MikePS's Avatar
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    Just spent 3 nights at So Branch & 2 nights at Roaring Brook. Conditions at So Branch were the same as usual, presence of rangers, bear warnings, TP in the outhouses, good supply of soft & hardwood. Roaring brook, one outhouse without TP, (fixed the next morning) lesser ranger presence, when the ranger checked me in, did emphasize the increased bear issue in the campground and the park. Their was spruce firewood, but it was terrible difficult to light and burn. The biggest shock was how empty the campgrounds were, a great week of weather and less than half the lean tos & tent sites were occupied in both campgrounds. Heavy day use for beautiful weather on the big mountain and backcountry parking lot was 90% full. Overall things seemed business as usual,but pack a little TP just in case.

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