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New ranger settles in at Kinni State Park

<i>Debbie Griffin photo</i> Meet the Kinnickinnic State Park Ranger Richard Bark.

Park Ranger Richard Bark moved into the residence at Kinnickinnic State Park in the town of Clifton late last year, becoming its new "guardian."

He grew up in the Baldwin area and said taking the job felt like coming home again.

For the past 10 years, Bark has worked as a ranger in the Copper Falls State Park in Mellen. He's been a DNR employee since 2000.

Bark said the job at Kinni represented a promotion -- it includes better pay but more duties.

Bark said he saw the job opening posted online.

"I had to compete like anybody else for the position," Bark said.

He responded to three essay questions, the answers to which a panel in Madison ranked. Next he went to an interview at the DNR's regional office in Eau Claire.

Duties call for him to do daily patrols in the 1,242-acre park; check to see if visitors need admission stickers; sell permits and stickers; answer park-related phone calls and e-mails; groom the park's six miles of trails; plow snow; and answer lots of questions, among other things.

Bark said a ranger's duties also change a bit with the seasons. For example, winter snow plowing gives way to summer lawn mowing and volunteer coordination.

He clarifies, "All rangers in a state park are credentialed law-enforcement officers."

Bark carries a firearm and, like his counterparts, has full powers to arrest.

There are three classifications of park ranger, all of which require credentials and adherence to Department of Justice standards.

Park highlights

Asked what's happening at the park now, the ranger said, "This time of year we have cross-country skiing."

He said many of the calls coming in now ask about the trails: If they're open; if they're groomed.

Bark said the trails weren't open last year because the park didn't have a ranger then.

His supervisor, Kelli Bruns, who works at the Willow River State Park, said Kinni hasn't had an "overnight" ranger since May 2009.

Some park trails are packed for hikers, dog walkers and other pedestrians. Only people wearing skis should be using the packed and tracked ski trails.

Bark said many have called to ask about boat camping on the river delta -- the only overnight camping permitted in the park. With no full-time ranger at the park, it could not issue permits for the spot last year.

The park has day-recreation spots that include tables and grills that sit both on the beach by the river and on an overlook in the park.

"We're working on getting more grills and tables in undeveloped areas of the park," he said.

The ranger said while no major projects are planned for the immediate future, the park will replace two pit toilets this year. The longer-range plan includes utilizing three undeveloped lots within the park -- two large ones and a small one.

Meanwhile, the park gets plenty of visitors who want to glimpse wildlife; enjoy snowshoeing, ice fishing or cross-country skiing or play on the beach.

Kinni features the Kinnickinnic River on the park's south end; on its west side sits the St. Croix River.

Here, there

Bark said he notices some differences between here and Copper Falls State Park. Plant communities there feature northern hardwood forests; here, he notes more prairie and oak trees.

"There aren't many naturally occurring (oak) up there," he said.

He says the geology there included a lot of granite, while here he sees glaciated limestone. Each park features running river water.

"The river is unique," he said. "It has multiple jurisdictions."

For example on something river related, he might work or collaborate with Pierce, St. Croix and Washington counties; the Coast Guard; and others at the DNR.

Bark moved to the area with wife Jessica and their three children ages 14, 9 and 6.

He enjoys fishing but says he isn't partial to a certain kind.

He mentions that the park welcomes volunteers who can help conduct interpreter programs, take visitors on guided tours, groom trails, teach an environmental class or help with the "orienteering" activities of geocache and earthcache.

"There's a volunteer who checks all the bluebird houses on the property," gave the ranger as an example of volunteer activities.

Asked what he likes about working as a park ranger, Bark said he enjoys helping people -- especially steering them toward a feature or activity they'll enjoy.

He adds that the job is never typical and changes with the seasons.

"It's different every day."