Minnesota State Parks Rebound from Shutdown

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August 15, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Land of 10,000 Lakes public campground facilities hitting summer stride.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) continues to report brisk numbers since it continued taking reservations July 26 following a 20-day shutdown in July.

According to Amy Barrett, public information officer for the DNR’s division of parks and trails, a record 4,140 reservations were made that first day (July 26) for a total of 11,489 nights of camping and lodging. The third and fourth highest total of reservations taken since 2007 came the next two days — 1,072 July 27 and 807 July 28, the Brainerd Daily Dispatch reported.

But it didn’t stop there. On Thursday (Aug. 11), Barrett said “11 of the last 14 days are ahead of the same comparable dates for 2010. (Even with the shutdown) we’re within 1,000 of where we expected to be on last year’s numbers. With every single park within 100 miles (of the DNR headquarters in St. Paul), it’s not possible to get a reservation spot for Friday or Saturday nights (Aug. 12-13).”

On Monday (Aug. 8), in the 14 days since state parks began taking reservations, the DNR has taken almost 12,000 reservations, with most every one of those days being an increase over those dates in 2010. As of Monday, 21,649 reservations have been taken for the next 365 days, compared to 23,100 on that same date in 2010 and 22,462 in 2009.

Itasca, Minnesota’s first state park, leads Minnesota’s 74 state parks and recreation areas with 987 reservations since July 26. Kathio State Park, near Onamia, is 18th with 218 reservations.

“We’re doing great here,” Kris Erickson, assistant park manager, said of reservations at Kathio. “The first weekend it was about half full, but the campers only had one or two days (to prepare for that first weekend after the shutdown was lifted). Since then we’ve had a full campground and good turnouts.

“That’s prime camping time in July,” Erickson said of the impact of the shutdown on the park. “We’re usually full. The campground is full, the (summer) programs are well attended. It’s tough to lose that business. But people are coming back strong. Everyone I’ve talked to is excited to come back to the parks and get their camping trips in. It’s difficult to make up that time — mid-June to mid-August is usually packed every weekend. When you’re losing three weeks of being packed, you can’t cram more people in. But people are coming out in great support of the park. We’re back to normal.”

Crow Wing State Park south of Brainerd isn’t there yet.

“I heard on a conference call that, in this region, most of the parks are full in the campgrounds and having a lot of visitors. The other ones are doing OK, but we haven’t rebounded yet,” said Robert Morgan, assistant park manager at Crow Wing. “We’re just over half full. This time of year we’re right around full capacity.”

Through Monday, Crow Wing was 38th among the state parks and rec areas with 96 reservations since July 26. And while the small, cozy park is known for its tranquility, Morgan hopes a not-so-tranquil event will help get the park back on track: The 30th Annual Lucas Oil Nationals is scheduled this week, through Aug. 21, at Brainerd International Raceway. In the past, Morgan said the event has drawn a lot of campers to the park.

“With the races coming up, it (camping numbers) should come up,” Morgan said. “It’s disappointing that it’s only been half full. (Because of the shutdown) people had to make alternate plans or didn’t return here because they didn’t see this as an option or they found other things. It’s hard to tell with those two weeks (since the parks reopened), but we’re hearing other parks are full or nearly full. How they rebounded so quickly, I don’t know why. With only being half full the last two weekends, I’m wondering when we’ll rebound. We normally turn people away (during Nationals). But they can call and we can accommodate them this year. Then I hope we can keep it busy through Labor Day.”

And 20 miles south of Crow Wing, Charles A. Lindbergh State Park in Little Falls is seeing a gradual rebound. It was 40th among the state parks and rec areas with 85 reservations from July 26 through Monday.

“Post-shutdown, the first weekend back wasn’t very busy, but it has picked up every weekend since then,” said Ty Gangelhoff, park manager at Lindbergh.

“In July 2010 we had 484 total occupied sites and in July 2011 it was 110,” Gangelhoff added of the impact of the shutdown on Lindbergh. “I think people are (excited to return to the parks). The public has been very nice to our employees. I haven’t seen anyone at this park, at least anyone in public, get upset with park employees. They’ve been very polite with all these changes going on. And we’re very appreciative of local law enforcement to watch over the parks (during the shutdown). It was a big commitment for them. The conservation officers had a big presence here.”

As the campgrounds at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area (CCSRA) near Crosby and Ironton are first-come, first-served, it’s difficult to gauge how the shutdown impacted the rec area. But while the CCSRA was closed, the new world-class mountain bike trails were accessible throughout the shutdown and visitors continued to come to the CCSRA to ride during that time, according to Steve Weber, DNR manager at the rec area. And now the CCSRA is back up to full speed, too, Weber said.

“We hit our stride shortly after we (re)opened,” Weber said. “The weekend after we reopened it was slow, but we’re at full speed now. People were still riding the mountain bike trails. The historical park at the mine was shut down, so we lost that. But folks were able to get into the boat accesses, so that continued on. They were using them but not to the same level as before, when we were providing services with restrooms and security.”

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