Posted at 4:37 PM on July 12, 2011
by Paul Tosto
From MPR's Tom Robertson:
In the summertime, this public rest stop on the shore of Cass Lake is usually bustling with activity. It sits right in the city limits of Cass Lake and is one of the only rest stops on Highway 2 between Duluth and the North Dakota border. The facility also serves as the town's visitor center and Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Now, concrete barriers and a huge closed sign block the entrance.
Chamber director Sue Schafroth has to work out of her home, because her office is inside the locked facility.
"We have a lot of people that come through here and they want to see what is in the area that they can do or places they can stay... and they can't come in here anymore. They've been blocked off from getting this information. And it's a hardship. It's a hardship for our businesses that put their flyers out here, and people can't even see what we have to offer in Cass Lake."
Schafroth says what's worse is that the only public boat launch in the city is also behind the barricade. Visitors have to travel several miles up the road to find another free boat launch site.
Shafroth says that means less business for local restaurants, bait shops and retail stores.
Before the government shutdown began 12 days ago, DNR officials projected that tourism would lose about $12 million dollars for each week of a shutdown. Now, with most state employees laid off, there's no one around from the DNR or the state tourism office to assess the impact.
Just a few miles up the road, officials at the Chippewa National Forest are seeing a very different impact. Kay Getting is the Chippewa's public affairs officer. Getting says the federally managed forest got a lot busier after Minnesota's 66 state parks shut down July 1st.
"We're seeing a large influx of people looking to reorganize their vacation time, so they're looking for available camping spots... So I'm expecting that if all of their July plans and maybe their August plans even are thwarted, they're going to be contacting us for... opportunities."
Observers expect the shutdown will have a very mixed impact on businesses in the state.
Tom Hesse is vice president of government affairs for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Hesse says many businesses won't be impacted at all, some will be hurt, and some private sector businesses in the recreation and tourism industry may actually benefit as state-run facilities remain closed. But Hesse says ultimately it may be hard to measure the true financial impact.
While Minnesota is losing millions from state park camping fees and fishing license sales, the state is also paying another price. Some of the state's closed state parks and forests have been the target of vandalism.
(photo: Cass Lake Chamber of Commerce)