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'Closed' doesn't deter park visitors

  • Article by: LARRY OAKES
  • Star Tribune
  • July 2, 2011 - 10:45 AM

TWO HARBORS, MINN. -- The gate was closed and the visitors center was locked, but hundreds of travelers still enjoyed the scenic splendor of Gooseberry Falls on Friday — even though all state parks are officially off-limits to the public as part of the government shutdown.

"We had no problem getting anywhere in the park," said Katie Murphy, who drove up with her family from Minneapolis for a weekend on the North Shore.

Some visitors managed to make their way to the nearby Split Rock Lighthouse, despite closure signs and highway construction that made access more difficult. Lee Radzak, who manages the lighthouse site, wasn't shooing away tourists for the time being, though the site was officially closed and people had to walk from the highway.

Both Gooseberry and Split Rock are among the state's most popular state parks.

For now, at least, state officials looked the other way, though perhaps not happily.

The state Department of Natural Resources, which manages state parks, is strongly advising visitors "not to enter the grounds of any state park during the shutdown." The agency's website offers this warning: "We are concerned about serious health, safety and security issues if visitors enter parks when there are no restroom facilities, water and staff available. For example, 911 calls might not be available due to lack of cell phone coverage."

Visitors also may not have to worry about the State Patrol ticketing or towing their vehicles for parking along highways near these shuttered attractions. On Friday, as many as 50 vehicles, including campers and motorcycles, lined the shoulders of U.S. Hwy. 61 near Gooseberry Falls.

"As long as they're parking in an area that's not marked 'no parking' or 'no stopping,' and as long as a hazard isn't being created, it would probably be allowed," said Lt. Eric Roeske of the State Patrol.

Visitors said they were relieved to find a way into Gooseberry and other parks, especially after getting reminders of the government shutdown on the road north.

"We went by three closed rest areas on the way up here," said Amy Velasquez, who drove from Coon Rapids with her husband, Raul, and their children Natalia, 6, and Marco, 4. "It surprised me that those would be closed."

Larry Oakes • 612-269-0504

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