State parks filling up again after government shutdown

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 25, 2011 - 11:23 PM

Campsite reservations now are comparable to previous years.

It took just a couple of weeks for state park attendance figures to rebound strongly after Minnesota's three-week government shutdown, which started July 1 after state lawmakers were unable to agree on a budget.

The closing of the 75 state parks and recreation areas was one of the more visible and hurtful impacts of the shutdown. It came just before the July 4th weekend and at the height of the summer tourist season.

Numbers from the Parks and Trails Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) find statewide camper reservations are back to about 50,000 per week, the same as they were in previous years, according to DNR spokeswoman Amy Barrett.

The strong numbers come despite the closure of St. Croix State Park near Hinckley, one of the state's most popular parks, which was devastated by a July 1 windstorm. Clearing of thousands of acres of downed timber continues, but the park is scheduled to reopen on Sept. 12. The computer system to take reservations at that park has not yet been set up, however.

Three other parks damaged by storms -- Camden, Old Mill and Upper Sioux Agency -- have since reopened after a delay for cleanup.

The DNR numbers show that 230,426 overnight camping reservations were made since the parks reopened July 21 through Wednesday. Excluding St. Croix State Park numbers, that compares to 280,962 for about the same time period last year, 283,308 in 2009 and 252,320 in 2008.

During the first week after the shutdown ended July 21, overnight state park reservations were 24,027, but more than doubled to 48,269 the following week, then topped 55,000 by mid-August. The latter two numbers are comparable to those of the previous three years at the same time.

People clearly have been eager to enjoy what the parks have to offer as summer fades to autumn, Barrett said.

"There's been a growing concern sometimes that people aren't getting outdoors enough," she said. "Hopefully there are some signs here that that trend is changing."

Jim Anderson • 651-925-4038

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