By Robert Lucke
There is a group in Havre that goes out early each morning, armed with battle gear to wage war on weeds, grass, dryness and anything else that stands in the way of keeping the 15 or so Havre parks looking like green and pleasant dells in which to while away lazy summer hours. Making them look well is a full-time job and then some for a crew of 13 headed up by Parks and Recreation director Dave Wilson and park superintendent Kris Bakke.
"Kris is the man," admits Wilson. "He is behind the basic operation and makes everything go. You name it and he is on it. Maybe a jack of all trades but more than that too."
Bakke has been on the job for the last 13 years. He heads up a seasonal crew of 11.
"They are all seasonal except Dave and me," Bakke said. "We probably get about a half crew turnover each year so that really helps in training the next crew."
The season for Havre parks starts early.
"Generally, I put a guy on or maybe a couple on April 1 if we can get them," Bakke said. "And then two or three in the middle of May and generally the rest of them come out when school is over, around the first of June."
Half of the city crew are high school students and most of the rest are college age. The first crew does spring cleanup and tries to get all of the parks up and running for the summer season. When mowing begins, it takes a couple of the crew to mow weekly.
"This year is an exception," Bakke said. "We haven't mowed yet. We have been on water restrictions and it has been so dry. This has been a very bad year for us."
Most parks are watered automatically these days. Only four are watered by hand. And of those, Deaconess and North Elks are slated for automated systems soon.
There are problems in the parks. Trouble is, no one knows just what or when they will occur.
"There are parks that have problems," Bakke said. "Trouble is that they are never consistent. Take Patterson. I planted some of the trees in Patterson 10 years ago and now we have lost them and have to dig them up. That makes me upset."
Some of that is due to little snow cover in the winter for a couple of years. And then there has been this spring. Not the best.
"This year in general has been a headache. All the work we have done. Weeds. Mature grasses established. Fertilization programs and then along comes a year like this and we haven't even been able to water or spray," Bakke said. "Things have fallen apart in two months' time. Hopefully, we will get things back up and going again."
One of the bright spots of Bakke's day is his crew.
"I don't have a lot of labor problems," Bakke said. "We haven't had any serious problems. They work with me and I make it so that they are relaxed around me. We joke around a lot and they get in trouble sometimes, but then a couple of hours later you are playing games with them. That helps those guys."
"I think it is in assigning projects too," Wilson interjected. "We know that not every job is going to be the one they want to do, but there are things that have to be done."
Strangely, numbers of applicants through the last three to five years have decreased. Still, though, a good crew can be found year after year.
Public enemy No. 1, vandalism, is a come and go thing in Havre.
"It does come and go," Bakke said. "Years ago there were lots of kids breaking off young trees, and the latest thing these days is kicking off sprinkler heads in the parks at night. But generally, it is pretty good so far as vandalism goes."
And you might figure that the very best part of being a part of the city parks crew is, simply, pride.
"The enjoyment of looking and seeing what the crew and I have been able to accomplish. It has been so much that it is hard to zoom in on any one thing. We have done a lot," Bakke added.