Why Do We Have a Combined City/County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department?

Written by Daniel G. Fiorenza

To answer this question, let’s look at some historical and practical reasons for merging our Wausau and Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Departments

In 1925, members of the Wausau Park Board and the Marathon County Park Commission had a common dilemma:

A lack of money.

It therefore appeared practical to hire one Superintendent of Parks. Subsequently, they did, and that began a joint venture of providing services to both city and county parks.

Discussions of formally combining the departments started in the early 1970s. Legislation permitting formal consolidation was drafted and signed into law in 1974, with the assistance of Assemblyman Anthony Earl. A joint effort between the Wausau Common Council and the Marathon County Board of Supervisors officially completed the consolidation in 1975.


There are many reasons why it’s practical to have a combined Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department, but here are two key reasons:

  1. A higher level of services
  2. Financial savings

Higher Level of Services

With a combined department, we have an ability to temporarily staff programs — and special events — at a much higher level.

Our area is very fortunate to host some very large tournaments and festivals (see articles in our county eNewsletter on such large-scale events this past year as the Ragnar Relay, the International Ginseng Festival, and the Hmong Wausau Festival). These events provide a nice financial impact for the area, and they’re one of the reasons why Marathon County is such a great place to live.

The Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau estimated that between 7,000 and 10,000 attendees were at the first-ever International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival in September 2017. Photo courtesy of the Wausau/Central Wisconsin CVB.

At the front end of these events, and for short period of time, high staffing levels from your Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department are needed. Without the ability to provide these service levels from a combined department, the success of large-scale community events such as these would be greatly diminished.

A combined department also provides a larger talent pool of skills and knowledge to provide a higher level of service to the community. Such specialized positions include:

  • Arborists
  • Landscape Architects
  • Horticulturalists

(For example, check out “FLOWER POWER in Marathon County!” to see the great work that our combined horticultural team does in our community.)

Financial Savings

The following are but a few ways financial savings can be realized with a combined city/county Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department:

  • Equipment is jointly owned, which avoids wasted expense and duplication of specialized equipment for providing services.
  • Field and managerial staff, as well as administrative support, is balanced across a combined department.
  • A job-costing system is in place that bills staff time according to facility ownership — either to city or county, allowing for a direct financial savings to each entity.

* * *

On a national scale, Park Districts are very popular from an economic standpoint, and they provide numerous service benefits for their citizens. The creation of Park Districts is not allowed in the state of Wisconsin; however, the joining of the City of Wausau and Marathon County to form one Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department is a close representation of this concept.

When you look at the trend of trying to provide the highest level of services for the best value to our citizens, the forerunners of the city and county government were clearly way ahead of the curve.

Daniel_G_FiorenzaDaniel G. Fiorenza

Park & Recreation Administrator  |  Wausau & Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department

Dan began his career with the Marathon County Parks Recreation and Forestry Department in 1994 as an Operations Superintendent. He holds a bachelor’s degree in natural resources from UW–Madison and a master’s degree in Park and Recreation Administration from UW–Lacrosse. Prior to moving to Wausau, he worked for the Crete Park District in Illinois for the city of La Crosse Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department. He has been a certified Parks and Recreation professional for 25 years and enjoys providing great service to our citizens. Dan enjoys spending his free time with his family and is an International Short Track Speed Skating Referee.  Email Daniel Fiorenza.

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