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Wisconsin Parks Win When Minnesota Shuts Down

July 5, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Lori Severson

And the winner in the Minnesota state shutdown is … Wisconsin?

“Our phones are ringing off the hook with calls from people panicking in Minnesota or people in Illinois and Iowa who were planning to go to Minnesota,” Lori Severson, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO), said Friday.

When Minnesota state parks and highway rest stops were closed suddenly along with other government services, the neighboring state to the east was the obvious beneficiary as Minnesotans scrambled to alter their holiday weekend plans.

Others that stood to benefit included Minnesota’s private campgrounds, city and county parks, amusement destinations, museums, and gas stations and fast-food establishments near closed rest stops.

But for many frustrated Minnesotans, shut out because of the shutdown, it was time to stop singing the blues and break out a chorus of “On, Wisconsin.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources pulled in an unusually large volume of calls Friday morning, many of them from Minnesota, asking about the availability of state campgrounds that already were packed, said Lisa Marshall, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

The state’s association of private campgrounds was so inundated with calls and e-mails from Minnesota that workers postponed their own vacation plans to answer phones.

“It’s absolutely crazy, absolutely nuts, the way people are panicking,” said Severson.

Tom Diehl, owner of the Tommy Bartlett Show in Wisconsin Dells, said Minnesotans already account for 15% of his customers and it would be difficult to gauge the effect of the state shutdown on this, a holiday weekend.

“Closing your parks hurts Minnesota tourism, and nobody wanted to see that,” Diehl said.

Minnesota openings

Not all parks in Minnesota were closed. Jennifer Fink, marketing director and visiting-services manager for those in Anoka County, said the parks were getting dozens of calls about campsites.

People who had reservations at Jay Cooke State Park, south of Duluth, were referred to the Knife Island private campground near Cloquet, said Rick Nerud, a temporary camp host who began the week working at Jay Cooke but was on the job at Knife Island on Friday.

Brenda Johnson and her family had planned to go camping with two other families in a state park this weekend. As they were about to call off the trip Friday morning, they found a private campground that had room for all three families.

“I’m happy it worked out,” the Rogers resident said. “But, I do have to wonder what sort of place it is if they have that much room still available at the last minute.”

Meanwhile, timing was on the side of one Minnesota family. Doug Pond took his family camping at Lake Carlos State Park near Alexandria last weekend.

It was pure luck that he got the trip in before the parks were closed, the Jordan resident said.

“We made the reservations many months ago,” he said. “We’d always planned to stay home this weekend.”

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