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Division of Parks and Recreation Honors Employees

PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota Division of Parks and Recreation recently recognized several individuals for their dedication and hard work in the state parks system. The awards were made at the division’s annual meeting held virtually last month.
“It is an honor to recognize these individuals,” said Scott Simpson, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation. “Our staff worked especially hard this year, and visitors to South Dakota state parks and recreation areas appreciate their efforts.”
Distinguished Service award was given to Patrick Thompson. Pat served the state of South Dakota for over 37 years with the Division of Parks and Recreation before retiring in November.
“Pat has always been a hard-working professional and never shied away from physical labor,” said Simpson. “His friendly personality and love of the outdoors proved to be a perfect fit with the Parks Division.”
Awards of Appreciation were presented Ryan Raynor and Jodi Bechard.
Ryan Raynor was recognized for his dedication to the dual roles he serves. “Ryan is the district supervisor stationed at Farm Island, but Ryan also serves as the program coordinator for the Recreation Trails Snowmobile Program,” said regional supervisor, Pat Buscher. “He is definitely worthy of the award in his ability to serve in this dual capacity.”
Jodi Bechard was recognized for her efforts in the advancement of the new e-commerce system, Go Outdoors South Dakota. “Jodi was front and center on identifying the needs and concerns of the Parks Division,” said deputy director, Al Nedved. “She always does her job with a smile on her face and has a positive effect on all those that she works with.”  
A Teamwork Award was presented to Heath Stone, Derek Dorr, Lance Catron, Erik Richter, Willy Collignon, Katy Hiltunen, and Jodi Bechard. “In 2021, this group of individuals has shown outstanding dedication to our new camping reservation system,” said Simpson. “The team was dedicated in providing input for a new way of doing business. These employees spent years preparing for the launch to make sure our customers got a quality product out of the gate.”
The 2021 Seasonal Employee of the Year Award is Keith Maisel. Keith has worked at Angostura Recreation Area near Hot Springs for 10 years. “Keith’s commitment to the job and willingness to help others is a great asset to the park, said Angostura park manager, Andrew Kathman. “Over the years Keith has trained many staff and brought a consistent quality of work to the park for its visitors.”
Merle Wenge earned the 2021 Volunteer of the Year award. Merle has been volunteering as the Palisades State Park campground host since the summer of 2012. “We were fortunate to discover Merle, as he’s a long supporter of South Dakota State Parks,” said Palisades park manager, Luke Dreckman. “He starts volunteering in the parks when the snow stops in the Spring and ends his volunteering when the snow begins in the Fall.”
Two Program Innovation Awards were presented at this year’s division meeting.
John Bame, Melissa Ziegenhagen-Riedesel, Walker Ruhd, and Heather Berg have implemented Cartegraph to replace paper annual inspections and track risk management and maintenance tasks at Lake Herman State Park and Walker’s Point Recreation Area. “The computer program updates an archaic paper system of inspections to the modern era of mobile technology,” said regional supervisor Willy Collignon. “This work is paving the way for future parks to create their own inspection process without having to start from scratch.”
After looking for ways to provide technical skills training to maintenance staff and new managers, Shane Bertsch teamed up with the local RTEC (Regional Technical Educational Center) in Yankton to develop a two-week training program covering electrical, construction, plumbing, welding, and safety. Over 20 attendees participated in the 2021 class, and Shane has arranged for both an entry level and advanced class in 2022. “This training would not have happened without Shane’s perseverance and the relationships he built with the RTEC staff,” said regional supervisor, Jeff VanMeeteren.

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