The state shuts down, but for some, business is up

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY and JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 3, 2011 - 6:32 AM

Not everyone was shut out with the shutdown. Some outlets stand to benefit from the government standstill, and many are across the state border.

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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, 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 percent 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."

Tobies Restaurant and Bakery in Hinckley, a halfway destination between the Twin Cities and Duluth, was typically busy Friday, "like a magnet for people coming off the highway," said manager Pam Zabrok.

The gas islands at Nelson Bros. Bakery and Restaurant in Clearwater, a popular stop west of Monticello on Interstate 94, were packed Friday, said Becky Thorpe, Nelson's CFO.

"People are still traveling," Thorpe said. "They're dealing with this."

Dave Rafson and his family came from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to spend the day at Valleyfair. He factored the state shutdown into his plans for driving home.

"I know the rest stops are closed," he said. "We're going to have to make a pit stop in Albert Lea."

Museum exhibit on

Several callers wanted to be assured that the Science Museum of Minnesota was open, said Chris Bauer, the museum's co-director of public relations. Yes, it is, and King Tut hasn't gone anywhere.

The Como Zoo in St. Paul also remains open, although with July typically its busiest month, it will be difficult to tell if the closing of the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley affects attendance, said Michele Furrer, the Como Zoo's campus manager.

With news Saturday that a judge has ruled that the Minnesota Zoo can reopen, any effect on Como attendance will be shortlived.

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."

plevy@startribune.com • 612-673-4419 jstrickler@startribune.com • 612-673-7392

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