State park event commemorates anniversary
By Greg Seubert
The first weekend of June is typically a busy time at Hartman Creek State Park.
This year was no different, as the 1,500-acre park seven miles west of Waupaca reached a major milestone.
More than 100 people turned out June 4 for the park’s 50th anniversary celebration that coincided with Wisconsin’s Free Fun Weekend, an annual event that waives admission fees to enter Hartman Creek and other state park and forest properties.
The Friends of Hartman Creek State Park organized the event to showcase the park, which opened in 1966.
Two former park superintendents – Merle Lang and Brian Hefty – were on hand. Lang managed the park for 25 years and Hefty was on board for three years before current superintendent Mike Bergum arrived 11 years ago.
“Even though I wasn’t here very long, it had a very profound effect on me,” said Hefty, now an area supervisor with the state Department of Natural Resources. “When I came here in 2000, I was 26 years old. It wasn’t the first property I managed, but it was the biggest.”
Lang arrived at the park in the mid-1970s.
“People would call and say, ‘Is it raining up there?’” he said. “I always told them to come on up.”
Campers now have the opportunity to reserve campsites online, but that wasn’t always the case, according to Lang.
“We had an extra campsite to cover our butt if we double-booked a campsite,” he said.
After retiring, Lang and his wife spent a decade as volunteers at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.
“People would come up to me and say, ‘Weren’t you at Hartman Creek?’” he said.
Several longtime park volunteers were also at the park for an awards presentation, including Arpad and Sue Eiler, Frank Schwab and Merlin Horn, who wrote a book on the park’s history 10 years ago.
Lynne and Carice Koch received a wooden memorial bench for their years of serving as campground hosts and Darrin Mann received a plaque to mark the nine miles of single-track bike trails that he and his group, the Cronie’s Trail Crew, built and maintain in the park.
The Friends group restored the Hellestad House, a Norwegian log cabin located in the park’s Allen Lake Picnic Area. More than 1,850 hours of volunteer time went into rebuilding the home of Ole and Anne Hellestad, immigrants from Norway in the mid-1800s who settled in central Wisconsin.
“We’re just everyday folks who like to help out,” said Ken Karth, the group’s president. “It’s a great group and we’ll find something for you to do.”
One of the park’s biggest draws is its family campground, which has 100 sites.
“If you walk around the campground, there’s a sense of community,” Hefty said. “It’s something that’s very special with this park. It’s a place where you create experiences.”