Local News

Park programs across McHenry County confident in staff levels for summer offerings

Several officials said they expect to have a full roster, which includes enough lifeguards for aquatics, beaches

Lifeguard instructor Tommy Landt watches a lifeguards train on paddle boards Wednesday, June 1, 2022, during a training session at Crystal Lake's Main Beach.

Through reputation, creative means and in some cases, a little more incentive for workers, park districts and departments across McHenry County have found the seasonal workers needed to pull off their summer programming.

While some parts of the state have struggled to fill out their seasonal staffs and certain jobs have been harder to fill than others, officials across the county said they’re confident that programming and facilities will not have to be altered because of lack of staff.

“We’re looking pretty good,” Huntley Park District Executive Director Scott Crowe said. “We put a lot of work into where we’re at.”

Crystal Lake Park District is one of the largest seasonal youth employers in the area, human resources manager Anna Olas said. Areas of hiring included summer day camps, park labor staff, beach staff and instructors for programming, she said.

Of that list, one area that saw a shortage was labor and maintenance staff for parks, where applications were lower than previous years, Olas said. Camp positions, meanwhile, saw an abundance of interest.

Andrew Dierking, a maintenance worker from the Crystal Lake Park District, paints decking Monday, May 23, 2022, at Crystal Lake's Main Beach, 300 Lakeshore Drive, in Crystal Lake, as they work on preparing the beach to open on Friday, May 27. With summer here, McHenry County park districts are seeing their rosters fill out for its programming.

Crystal Lake father Erik Zier said he didn’t have much trouble getting his daughter enrolled in a 10-week summer camp. However, because it was full, she will miss the first two weeks and start the third week, he said.

“I don’t think it had to do with staffing,” he said. “I think it just filled up.”

In Huntley, Crowe said while he knew filling the roster would be an uphill battle this year, it was last year that brought the toughest challenge.

Starting recruitment early plays a major part in finding enough staff, Crowe said. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 meant losing a year of that. This year, however, will see a lot of staff returning from last year, giving the district something more to build off, he said.

Job fairs, digital promotions and having partner agencies spread the word helped bolster numbers, he said.

“It wasn’t easy, but we’re confident we can say we’re well-staffed for the summer,” Crowe said.

For the Cary Park District, the opening of the new Sunburst Bay Aquatic Center proved to be a huge draw, as the park district organized a marketing campaign around being a part of the first team to ever work at the facility, said Katie Hughes, director of communications and marketing.

Mareena Berge paddles out to practice rescuing Avery Kuligowski Wednesday, June 1, 2022, during a lifeguard training session at Crystal Lake's Main Beach.

The park district still is looking for more workers for its summer day camps, Hughes said.

“We could always use more day camp workers,” she said. “Hiring more staff would allow us to have even more campers … and reduce our waitlist.”

Like previous years, McHenry’s park department is staffed with help through its strong relationships with those who participate in the programs, Athletics and Aquatics Supervisor Nicole Thompson said.

The department often sees participants join programs, such as swimming, at a young age and stay for many years. Once they turn 15, the district can see if they are interested in working for the city, Thompson said.

Katie Wolf, of McHenry, said she was able to enroll her kids, 4, 3 and 1 years old, in everything that was available for their age groups.

“We haven’t had any issues in enrolling at all,” she said. “Swimming, lots of athletics. ... We had no issues last year either.”

Children from a birthday party play on the beach Monday, May 23, 2022, at Crystal Lake's Main Beach, 300 Lakeshore Drive, in Crystal Lake.

In McHenry, the city’s park and recreation department is set to the point that officials are turning potential employees down, Thompson said. The department expects to retain about 75% of its staff every year.

“We sometimes get siblings too,” she said. “Word of mouth and reputation have been the cornerstone of being easier to hire.”

Although not all areas within park agencies are seeing great numbers. Lifeguards have been in short supply for close to a decade now, Olas said. Referral programs and adjusting pay are things done to entice lifeguards, she said.

“These shortages are nothing new to the area,” she said. “We’ve had lifeguard shortages well before [the pandemic].”

Molly Quinn and Jamie Schroll, of Crystal Lake, both have children that work as lifeguards in the Crystal Lake Park District.

“Their beach staff feels a little short on staff,” Quinn said. “It also takes a lot of time to train these new people.”

Lifeguard instructor Tommy Landt demonstrates a rescue technique with Mareena Berge Wednesday, June 1, 2022, during a lifeguard training session at Crystal Lake's Main Beach.

Still, Crystal Lake Park District officials expect to have enough lifeguards for programming. And those who do well one year could be asked back the next year, which helps reduce the overall need for staff both in lifeguards and across other areas of need, Olas said.

Thompson said McHenry in her time has never had a problem finding lifeguards.

Huntley’s Crowe said it’s hard to find lifeguards, but they always get the number they need.

“If you treat staff well, they will return,” Crowe said. “[Lifeguard] shortages are certainly a topic among different park districts. Some are struggling more than others.”