Wright County parks have always been a showcase for residents of the county who utilize the parks and appreciate the commitment county leaders have made over the decades to preserve and expand the county’s park system. On Monday, the annual reservation process for campsites at Collinwood and Schroeder Parks opened. At Tuesday’s Wright County Board of Commissioners meeting, Parks & Recreation Director Marc Mattice was asked how the first day of taking reservations went. He responded, “We did well yesterday.”
County Board Chair Mark Daleiden asked him to give the board an idea of what “well” meant.
“We did $120,000 in 45 minutes,” Mattice said.
While that total set a new record for revenue generated in such a short period of time (representing about 70 percent of the revenue Parks & Rec takes in during a year), it was even more impressive considering that 17 sites in the two parks were unavailable due to COVID-19 restrictions or that record-shattering number (about $25,000 more than last year in the first 45 minutes) would have likely gone considerably higher given there is a five-month campground season.
However, heading into Monday’s launch, there was legitimate concern on the part of Mattice and his staff. Following the end of the 2020 camping season, the department switched servers for its reservation system – one that required all users (past and present) to create new accounts. For a first-time product with no certainty it could handle the incredible volume of users on the site simultaneously, there were concerns the system might crash.
However, despite rolling the dice on a new service, the system held up extremely well.
“There was a brand new software system that we implemented,” Mattice said. “I think we approved that in October and told them that we were kicking off January 1st with shelters and campgrounds in March. They thought we were nuts with that time frame because it usually takes six to eight months to update the systems. When we told what we would be doing on Monday, they had a support staff behind the scenes watching us so we did not crash.”
The record-setting opening day also didn’t include what many believe is going to be the crown jewel of the campground system for Wright County Parks – Bertram Chain of Lake Park in Monticello.
The construction of a campground and camper cabins was expected to be a two-year process that wouldn’t allow the campground to open until 2022. But, much of the work was consolidated in 2020, including an abbreviated construction timeline. Most of the work was completed last year, including the installation of grass turf in the campground area.
Mattice said that, out of caution for the long-term benefit of the campground, the plan is to open by mid-summer. For now, the plan is to wait and see how the grass sets up and takes root before campers will be using the area.
“We’re going to have to wait for turf establishment and see where that goes,” Mattice said. “We hoping to open that one up for reservations in mid-June with an open date right after the 4th of July. We want to see how the turf establishes because we don’t want to ruin that and have a mud pit for the next 20 years.”
At a time when COVID-19 has ravaged a lot of businesses and severely hampered many others, Wright County Parks & Recreation has been a booming business. With more people staying closer to home due to travel restrictions over the last year, Wright County parks have become a local oasis for families and outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy getting outside and temporarily leaving COVID behind.
“I think because of COVID, that’s when people really started coming out and discovered our parks,” County Commissioner Chris Husom said. “A lot of them didn’t even know some of these hidden gems that we have in Wright County.”
From the sounds of things in the Parks & Rec cash register, the secret is out.