The Explorer Magazine Summer 2018 - Page 20

W hen you visit McCloud Nature Park, Sodalis Nature Park, and the Vandalia Trail, most of what you enjoy is the hard work and accomplishments of four of our employees whose names you don’t often hear – Park Manager Jim Holtsclaw and his maintenance team: Jeff Rosemary, Ron Fox, and Steve Miller. Jim is the only full-time employee on this crew charged with maintaining 232 acres at McCloud, 210 acres at Sodalis, and 4.5 miles of the Vandalia Trail. McCloud and Sodalis also include 10 miles of trails throughout their combined 442 acres. Two regular volunteers, Gene Ardeel and Kurt Steuer, each spend about 8 hours a week helping our employees keep up with this monumental task. In addition to keeping the parks mowed and cleared of fallen trees, Jim and his team have built the Arboretum, the Bee House, foot bridges, a boardwalk and observation decks in the new wetland habitat at McCloud Nature Park in the past year. They also built the new interactive exhibit inside the McCloud Nature Center, plus they construct and 20 • UNSUNG HEROES: Our County Parks Maintenance Team maintain the popular McCloud Prairie Maze every autumn. “I don’t pay anybody to do anything that I can do for myself,” says Jim. And with his degree in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration from Western Illinois University and his extensive experience in construction, landscaping, and computer science, there isn’t much that he can’t do. That has translated into huge savings to taxpayers. Construction of the interactive exhibit within the Nature Center was estimated to be a $50,000 job, had it been contracted out. Instead, the maintenance team, park naturalists, and volunteers spent about $10,000 in materials to build the custom display case, including the electrical work and dioramas. Jim built and programmed the sound boards as part of the new exhibit, and Gene created a beautiful and functional new glass-encased home for the Nature Center’s resident black rat snake, Oboe, that stands next to the exhibit. Contracted out, the 300-foot-long boardwalk and observation decks at McCloud were estimated to cost up to $75,000. Jim and his crew spent less than $17,000 on materials, and the boardwalk is built to last at least 20 years. Over the 11 years that Jim has served as our Park Manager, the savings to taxpayers are immeasurable. He and his maintenance teams have built most of what visitors see and use at McCloud Nature Park. At Sodalis Nature Park, they have constructed all of the trails, the nature viewing platform, the ADA-accessible fishing pier, and the bridge at the front of the park that leads to the hiking trails, to name just a few projects. They’ve done extensive work on the Vandalia Trail, and their cost-saving skills will be put to use again in 2018 during the construction of W.S. Gibbs Memorial Park in Washington Township. “With such a small group, it sometimes takes awhile to finish a project that would quickly be completed by a full construction crew,” said Holtsclaw. “But we save taxpayers a whole lot of money.”