Carroll County’s Department of Recreation and Parks wants to make one thing clear: Piney Run Park in Sykesville is not closing.
At the beginning of a Piney Run Recreation and Conservation Council meeting Wednesday night, Jeff Degitz, recreation and parks director for the county, addressed growing rumors that the park would soon close due to staffing shortages.
“We may not have staff to provide services or offer some programs, but we are not closing the park,” Degitz said Wednesday. “Everybody is facing challenges. We will get through this.”
The park’s boathouse, which collects launch fees and offers boat rentals, bait sales and concessions, is closed indefinitely due to lack of staff.
“We will lose $100,000 in gross revenue,” if the boathouse remains closed through June, July and August, Degitz said.
During their weekly meeting Thursday, Carroll County commissioners discussed the staffing issues at the park and bounced around ideas for offering help through hourly wage increases. No decisions were made, and commissioners said they would address the issue at an upcoming meeting.
Piney Run is one of Carroll County’s oldest developed parks. It opened in 1974 and has a nature center, six pavilions, and a 300-acre reservoir for fishing and boating. There are also more than 5 miles of hiking trails, tennis courts, playgrounds, climbing rock, picnic tables and comfort stations at the park.
Staff shortages may lead to closures at the nature center, which has happened at Bear Branch Nature Center in Westminster, Degitz said.
The gatehouse may also close when staff is unavailable to collect fees from entering vehicles. This would allow visitors to enter without paying the $6 fee for Carroll County residents or $12 for nonresidents, resulting in lost revenue at the park.
Several activities will not be held this year, including most fishing tournaments. The youth fishing derby scheduled for June 11 and the park’s annual big fish contest will still occur, though details were still being worked out.
Three of the park’s six full-time staff positions were vacated recently, but all have since been filled, Degitz said.
The department has a staff of 26, Degitz said, including part-time and contract positions. Vacancies remain among the part-time staff and filling those positions are vital for Piney Run Park to be fully operational this summer, he added.
The three full-time employees who left did so for various reasons, Degitz said, though some said the county’s low wages were a factor.
Park ranger jobs offer $13.68 per hour while park assistants, camp counselors and custodial specialist positions pay $12.50 per hour. There are currently no applicants for these positions, Degitz said.
“Our goal is to retain staff,” Degitz said. “I met with staff and encourage open communication at all levels.
“We have never been the highest-paying job.”
Capital improvements to the park can be paid for with endowments or donations, but salaries are drawn from the county’s general fund.
In September, the Board of Carroll County Commissioners approved a $300,000 contract for a compensation, classification and organizational design study with the Segal consulting firm, after recognizing a declining number of qualified job applicants across all county government jobs.
In the study, several factors were noted as contributing to trouble attracting and retaining employees. They included a lack of competitive compensation and limited remote and flexible work options.
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A crowd of more than 30 people at the Piney Run meeting listened intently to Degitz and took turns asking questions and providing ideas. One suggestion was to use a pay box at the gatehouse and boathouse. Another suggested creating places for people to store kayaks or boats and charging rent.
“This is a jewel of the county, between the nature center, the camps [and] the field trips,” said Rita Jacobs of Sykesville.
Degitz said he is working to address the issues.
“We could raise taxes,” Degitz said. “We could raise gate fees, but we want to keep people coming.”