L&C Welcomes New Park Manager

Centerville native Kristina Laska took on the role of park manager at Lewis & Clark Recreation Area Sept. 21. Over the last five years, Laska has accumulated experience at a number of Game, Fish & Parks properties throughout the state. 

The Lewis & Clark Recreation area — coming off a record year for visitation and camping — is also under new management.

In September, Centerville native Kristina Laska transferred to the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area where she took the reins as park manager.

For Laska, working among South Dakota’s vast array of state recreation areas is nothing new.

“I started working seasonally for the Game, Fish & Parks in 2015,” she told the Press & Dakotan. “I worked two summers out of the Newton Hills office by Canton. Then I worked another summer at Lake Poinsett Recreation Area up by Brookings.”

She also served as an intern park manager at Custer State Park before becoming a full-time park manager at Lake Louise Recreation Area near Miller, a role she’d serve in for just over two years before accepting the position at Lewis & Clark Recreation Area.

Laska said getting into the parks system was a natural fit for her.

“I’ve always loved the outdoors, being outside and being able to work with people and also make the outdoors a place they want to be, too,” she said. “I wanted a job after I got out of high school that I could enjoy and have fun with, so I decided to go work with the state parks, and ever since then, I’ve just loved it.”

She added there were many reasons for her to get excited about coming down to Lewis & Clark.

“It’s a big opportunity for me just being at a bigger park — Lake Louise is a much smaller park, we only had about 39 campsites where Lewis & Clark/District 9 in general has a little over 700 — so it’s a big step up,” she said. “For me, it got me closer to family. I originally grew up in Centerville, so I got a lot closer to home again.”

Laska said her tasks in the coming months will include helping the maintenance crews, as well as customer service and overseeing general operations.

She added that one of her biggest goals going forward is bringing more people into nature.

“The big thing is getting people out to the park and getting them to come back, continue to enjoy the outdoors and be able to make this a place that people want to keep coming back to — even if they’ve already been here,” she said.

And people have been returning to the parks in droves.

Laska arrived at Lewis & Clark Recreation Area amid its largest visitor and camping year ever. Last week, the Press & Dakotan reported that District 9 had seen 1,240,845 visitors between Jan. 1 and the end of September, at District the district’s recreation areas (Lewis & Clark, Chief White Crane, Pierson Ranch and Springfield). Camping numbers were also higher, with 66,200 camping units recorded between Jan. 1 and the end of September. These figures also include the Sand Creek and Tabor recreation areas.

The COVID-19 pandemic is largely seen as a driver in the higher numbers due to the ease of social distancing while camping and the reduction in available activities throughout the region.

Laska said that she would like to build upon these numbers.

“(We’re) going to have to see how the next year goes and what all happens,” she said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty with COVID right now. But I’m hoping that, since so many people have gotten out to the parks and seen what we can offer and enjoyed their experience, they continue to come back and we can continue to improve the park to make it a place where they want to keep enjoying and coming back.”

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