Campers began exiting Minnesota’s state parks Thursday afternoon (June 30) as today’s shutdown of state government approached.

All of Minnesota’s 74 state parks and recreation areas were closing as of 4 p.m. Thursday because of a budget impasse and the impending state shutdown, the Duluth News Tribune reported

Campers across the state faced the same dilemma Thursday afternoon as negotiations between legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton continued with no budget deal made.

“We’re kind of bummed, actually,” said Traci Veek of Elk River, Minn., as she prepared to leave her Jay Cooke State Park campsite. “Like, c’mon, just one more day. Our families go camping every year to a different state park, and this year we picked Jay Cooke.”

But Veek and her camping crew had heard about the potential state government shutdown and knew they might have to leave early. Most campers at Jay Cooke seemed resigned to the shutdown on Thursday and didn’t blame the park ranger as she made her rounds, notifying all campers of the closure. By early afternoon, many of the park’s campsites already were empty.

Eighteen camping groups had to cut short their stays at Jay Cooke, and many others who had reservations for July 1 and beyond were told not to show up. The park has 82 campsites.

Demand shifts

Many people who had planned to camp at state parks in the area are now looking to U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, private campgrounds or Wisconsin campgrounds.

“Instead of going to Jay Cooke (State Park) or up the North Shore, people are making reservations here,” said Barbara Higton, owner of the Cloquet/Duluth KOA in Cloquet. “We’ve gotten those calls in the past two or three weeks. We’re basically full now.”

The campground has 60 RV and tent sites, she said.

The Forest Service is gearing up for an expected increase in demand at their campgrounds, especially on the North Shore, said Steve Schug, assistant ranger for recreation and wilderness at Tofte and Grand Marais.

“We kind of figured it would impact our Forest Service offices big time,” Schug said Thursday.

The agency will keep in close contact with its campground concessionaires to keep tabs on campsite availability, he said.

“The last thing we want to do is send a forest visitor 50 miles up a gravel road to a campground that’s already full,” he said.

Pattison State Park in Wisconsin has received many inquiries from would-be Minnesota campers, said Nicole Farmakes, visitor service representative at the park.

“But we’ve been booked since May, so we can’t help those people,” she said.

Re-opening process

State parks and recreation areas are prepared to reopen as quickly as possible if a budget deal is reached, said Chris Niskanen, DNR director of communications.

“It might be simple, or it may be more difficult, depending on the park,” Niskanen said late Thursday afternoon. “We have a contingency plan for reopening the parks. We’ll have to turn on the water, turn on the electricity. … This is not a latch-key operation. These are complex facilities.”

Although the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources closed down most of its website Thursday afternoon because of the state government shutdown, one page will remain available, said Chris Niskanen, DNR director of communications. That page of Frequently Asked Questions will include the latest information on what DNR operations will remain in service during a shutdown. To reach that page, go to www.mndnr.gov. The page will offer no links to other parts of the DNR’s website.