State parks could re-open for day use Friday
St. Paul, Minn. (AP) — The end of Minnesota's government shutdown will bring the re-opening of state parks, one of the most visible casualties of the budget impasse, starting as early as Friday.
Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Niskanen said some parks would re-open for day use starting Friday, with overnight camping as early as Saturday. Niskanen warned that those were best-case scenarios, and the speed with which parks re-open could vary widely.
The parks have to be cleaned and checked to make sure they are safe, Niskanen said. Some parks were damaged by an early July windstorm; others by vandals. Some have garbage left by day-use visitors since the shutdown began that has to be cleaned up.
"We really want to manage people's expectations here," Niskanen said. "These are not latchkey operations."
State employees were expected back on the job starting Thursday.
Niskanen said the DNR hoped to update its website, www.state.mn.us, to show a green, yellow or red button next to each state park to give the public a sense of whether it is open, partially open or closed.
Parks that will require the most work are Afton, Lake Bronson, Camden, Upper Sioux Agency, Flandreau, Blue Mounds, Wild River and St. Croix. St. Croix, one of the state's most popular parks, may not open for two to four weeks due to a July 1 storm that downed trees across thousands of acres, Niskanen said.
Niskanen said the DNR reservations system wouldn't be able to take new camping reservations until 8 a.m. Tuesday because pending refunds must be cleared first. People with existing reservations should be able to camp if their park is fully open, he said.
"We understand that people were disappointed and frustrated and many of their vacations were put on hold, and people are anxious to go back to the parks. But we want to make sure people don't walk into a park where there's a safety problem or a bad experience," Niskanen said.
The state's online system for issuing fishing licenses was up and running on Wednesday, Niskanen said.
During the shutdown, it was impossible to obtain fishing licenses. While the DNR had warned that it would enforce regulations during the shutdown - its enforcement officers were not laid off - Niskanen said preliminary reports from most of those officers showed the agency wrote only 12 tickets. Those went to people who dropped their gear and fled when officers approached them, suggesting they were "blatantly violating" some conservation rules instead of merely fishing without a license, Niskanen said.
The DNR issued 120 warnings that required people to prove later that they had obtained a license, he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)