Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
What do park staff DO all winter?

In today’s post, Deputy Superintendent Josie Grenier and other Southeast staff give us a behind-the-scenes look at what our teams do during the winter months.

There is a false assumption that Ontario parks go into hibernation during the winter, just like bears, but we are by no means just a summer experience.

Field staff are often asked, “What do you do in the winter or when you are closed?”

Where can we even begin to answer this question!?

Some of us continue to manage our winter parks.

First of all, 31 parks are open during the winter season. Fourteen parks have an evening program, while the rest are only open during the day.

Yurt on Windy Lake

These parks are still in operational mode, collecting fees and responding to customer needs. Staff at these parks are plowing trails, grooming ski runs, cleaning facilities, packing snowshoe trails, and hosting events, such as loppets or even weddings.

Some of us leave our parks in bed…

But closing a park is not as simple as simply closing the gates. Our staff put a lot of effort into preparing each park for winter.

…and then get back to work!

Parks that close their gates in the fall still have staff hard at work behind the scenes.

snowplow

Once the closure process is complete and the park is essentially winterized, the scope of work changes. It’s time to catch up after a busy season and plan ahead for the next one!

Improving the park

Many construction projects occur during times of closure.

Construcción del paseo marítimo<br />Silver Lake, Fall 2015<br /> ” width=”660″ height=”440″  sizes =”(max-width: 660px) 100vw, 660px”></p>
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These may include new buildings or improvements to existing ones, new playgrounds, road/culvert work, hazardous tree removal, new trailer unloading/filling stations, and much more.

Talking to our visitors and partners

Winter is the main planning season for many visitors, so we still receive many phone calls and emails from our visitors. We may also maintain park social media accounts.

meeting

This is also a good time for many parks to meet with our local partners and stakeholders, such as friends groups, ski clubs and neighboring landowners.

Catch up on paperwork

Each park submits year-end reports on a wide variety of topics, from finances to educational program attendance, from wastewater to wildlife sightings. Zone offices and the main office often request additional data as well.

We also renew any expired permits, such as water intake permits or certificates of approval, and ensure that expired legal agreements are updated.

Hiring staff for spring.

At the beginning of the offseason, we put out applications for how many student positions we will need for next year. Managers talk about succession planning and strategize how to get the right people into the right positions. We also need to draft retirement letters for any returning staff.

Park ranger and gate staff at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.

Recruiting starts early, so we’re creating job ads and descriptions with recruiting services, vetting resumes, and then conducting interviews. Many of us also visit local trade shows, colleges and schools as part of our recruiting efforts.

Improving our skills

To stay alert, we attend trainings, conferences and meetings on a wide variety of initiatives and mandates. Staff evaluations and performance development plans occur throughout the year, and managers also evaluate staff training expirations (such as water operator licenses) and set work goals for the upcoming season. .

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Boat along the coast with guards

Winter is also a time when management endorses and submits award nominations for outstanding team members.

Planning our park

From park managers to ecologists to planners, we all spend a lot of time working on our park management plans. We have to update our individual park-specific plans annually.

The financial forecast for staff salaries and park expenses for the upcoming season has been completed. Once we know what the park needs, we create proposals and business cases, and present multi-year capital project needs and costs. Staff write grant applications to obtain funding for additional projects.

Store displays

New and fun store products are sought out and ordered for our customers. Events and programming are planned, and agreements are signed with event partners.

Tidy

We clean and organize staff workstations. We ensure inventories are up to date for items such as computers, uniforms and vehicles.

van, other vehicles

We audit park programs/departments for inefficiencies and make recommendations.

The cleanup stage also includes our website, and we review content, such as campsite parameters and visitor information, and send update requests.

What other tasks could we be doing? To name a few…

  • create or update Visitor Center screens
  • Offering educational programs for school groups.
  • produce literature, such as tabloids and trail guides, for the upcoming operating season
  • record censuses of winter tracks and species sightings
  • review and approve incoming research authorizations

And finally, from time to time, we spend a few minutes writing blog posts for our marketing team 😉

We hope this list (by no means exhaustive) demonstrates that, like our close friends the chickadees, our field staff are wide awake and very active during the winter.

We are a very large and busy organization, spread across Ontario, located in the most beautiful landscapes.

Our entire year-round staff strives to balance the protection and ecological integrity of these areas with ensuring our 10 million annual visitors have a wonderful experience in our parks.