There will be big changes coming to the way Williams County is managing its campgrounds, after several incidents this summer highlighted the need for enforcement of what had been largely an “on your honor” system, managed by volunteer camp hosts.
Better than half of the campers at Blacktail Dam did not pay the required fee in any given week, according to Rogene Ralph, who served as a volunteer camp host for the Blacktail Dam campsite this past summer. She was present at the Tuesday, Sept. 3, Park Board meeting to talk about several incidents that occurred at the campground during the past summer.
Among these, an oilfield company brought in a large barbecue grill and camper, serving several hundred meals out of it. Rather than placing it in an approved location, however, the employees drove it over a playground area, removed various equipment that was in their way, and took over that area in a way such that children could no longer play in it.
Ralph said some of the employees were also housing their dogs inside restrooms, and that the dogs left a mess for Ralph and her husband to clean up. A company official later called the Ralphs to apologize, and offered to send her money for her trouble.
“I don’t want money,” Ralph told commissioners. “But I told them they need to pay the county for the destruction they did with that thing in there for a week.”
Williams County Commissioners Cory Hanson and Beau Anderson both agreed that sounded like a fine idea. They asked Ralph to prepare a detailed list of the damage done, as well as the time she and her husband Donnie had to spend cleaning up after the company.
“I have the address for (the company),” Hanson said, “and we should send them the bill. If it doesn’t cost someone money, they don’t take it seriously.”
Ralph also had to call Anderson to the campground to talk with a couple of campers who had violated several rules and were particularly rude and combative with her.
That didn’t solve the problem, however. Right after Anderson had left, one of the campers said to her, “You effing b, you lost this round,” Ralph told commissioners.
He then had a large and noisy party that night. The next day, when he saw her outside of her camper, he said to her, “Fat ass, get back in your camper.”
The individuals also brought in six labradors, Ralph said, and essentially gave them the run of the park.
“I called the sheriff, but he said no laws were broken, and that we had rented that spot to them,” she said. “I rented them a $15 spot, and they also threw fireworks at our camper. It was horrible.”
Ralph said she ripped out a sign identifying her camper as camp host, and said she was no longer the camp hostess. She also indicated that Cory Paryzek, who was formerly the parks and recreation superintendent, also said he was done.
Commissioners accepted Paryzek’s resignation at a commission meeting in August.
“I’m ashamed that people would treat you that way,” Anderson said.
He said the county would get a leash law in place, as well as review what needs to be done to remove those who are either not paying their fee, or refusing to follow the campground’s rules.
Ralph also recommended better signage, in particular to restrict boats from using the campground road to get to the boat ramp.
The campground route is shorter than the paved road to the boat ramp, but a portion of it is also gravel. Since many of those hauling boats via that route are also not following the 15 mph speed limit, they are spraying campers and RVs with dust and rocks.
“A child had a hot wheel or big wheel out there and this boat came through there and smashed the bike to pieces,” Ralph said.
Ralph said when she tells people there is a fee to stay in the campground some of them have told her they didn’t have to pay last year, or that they don’t have to pay if they are not present, even if their camper is.
Then they just don’t pay, even though she has informed them that they are supposed to.
“We had a gentleman from Williston who came out and parked his motor home on 1, 2, 3 and 4,” she said. “I went over and said are you going to pay for those spots? And he said no, there’s no one out here.”
The man even put up a fence around his camper for his three dogs, and stayed for two weeks without paying.
Another group from Trenton who refused to pay asked Ralph if she knew who their dad was.
A third individual from Plentywood, who also didn’t pay, said he was just bringing his dogs there to clean up in the river.
“It’s not a river, it’s a dam, I told him,” Ralph said.
She also told the man all the dogs need to be on a leash at all times. But the next morning, Ralph was awakened by several dogs scratching on her camper door, all of which she said belonged to the Plentywood man.
“People keep taking the dogs over to the swimming area that we clean,” she said. “They let their dogs run into the water and go to the bathroom while the kids are swimming there. There used to be some signs there. I don’t know what happened to all of them.”
Commissioners asked Ralph to make a detailed list of all the problems, and said they would work through the winter on adjusting existing rules and processes to improve the situation for camp hosts there and at all the county’s campgrounds.
Also in progress, is hiring a new park superintendent. The park board unanimously passed a recommendation that the position become a full-time, year-round position.
Williams County Commissioner Steven Kemp, meanwhile, recommended that the individual be charged with developing winter-time recreational opportunities, pointing out there are many opportunities for that in North Dakota.