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STATEWIDE — With things looking a lot better as far as the coronavirus pandemic is concerned, people are flocking to Indiana’s state parks in record numbers.

According to Terry Coleman, the director of state parks with the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources, they are seeing a lot of people paying money to see Indiana’s state parks. He compares the rush to one they saw shortly after 9/11.

“We saw a rush of people coming for that sense of place, that sense of feeling,” Coleman told Indiana Outdoors. “Coming to some of the most special and treasured places of our state and they seem to flock there.”

But, with the more visiting state parks, there are fewer people working to manage the influx. You’ve read stories recently about how many businesses are struggling to find workers in order to meet demand. Indiana’s state parks are no exception.

“We are right, smack dab, in the middle of hiring,” Coleman said. “We look for about 1,600 less than full-time people every year for a variety of things. Lifeguarding, maintenance, even housekeeping and cleaning for our inns and lodges.”

Lifeguards are the biggest shortage that Coleman is facing. With pools closed for the whole of 2020 because of COVID restrictions, lifeguards at each state park were left without work. What complicates things is the fact that their lifeguards operate with a two-year certification.

“If we had lifeguard folks that were in the second year of their certification when we went into the pandemic and didn’t work and then there was really no way to go through the skills portion of the test and social distance with masks,” said Coleman. “So those courses weren’t being offered for them to re-certify.”

That along with people in their first year prior to the pandemic burning through their second year with no work in 2020, each lifeguard that the DNR hires this year has to get certified which makes the hiring process longer and slowing down the rollout of lifeguards for state park pools.

Coleman said the shortage is at its worst at Spring Mill and Turkey Run State Parks. In fact, Coleman believes they will not be able to open the pool at Spring Mill at all this year because they can’t find anyone that can lifeguard for the whole summer.