As warming weather, closed offices and a new fishing season all try to lure Minnesotans to the outdoors this week, the state’s two premier camping destinations will remain closed to overnight visitors.
Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness announced Monday that they will not allow overnight stays for the duration of Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, which was recently extended to May 17.
Both parks will be open for use during the day, but permits for camping or houseboat mooring will not be issued.
The decision to restrict access to the Boundary Waters during what is typically the start of the season was “particularly difficult,” said Connie Cummins, Superior National Forest supervisor.
It was made to align with the governor’s request that people recreate close to home, she said in a statement.
“I’m looking forward to the day when we can safely reopen sites for overnight use,” she said.
The parks are typically open to campers year-round, but tend to get few overnight visitors until the first few weeks of May.
As the novel coronavirus shutters much of the state’s economy, outfitters, fishing guides and resort owners who rely on visitors to the popular parks are wondering when, or if, they will be able to get back to work.
“Our revenues are only from May to Oct. 1, so figure out how long we can keep this up,” said Billy Dougherty, owner of Rainy Lake Houseboats in International Falls. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Dougherty’s family has operated resorts near Voyageurs National Park since 1918. The governor’s decision to include restrictions on public and private campgrounds in his stay-at-home emergency order makes little sense to the businesses and communities of northern Minnesota that rely on spring and summer tourism, Dougherty said.
“If you look at any of the big stores or the Targets, they’re as busy as ever,” he said. “But you can’t camp or get outdoors to a place where you don’t have to interact with people?”
The U.S. Forest Service said that it will fully refund all overnight reservations at the Boundary Waters and in Superior National Forest that were made through May 17.
The National Park Service, which oversees Voyageurs National Park, said that reservations for May 18 or later will be honored, unless the state’s stay-at-home order is extended.