Tettegouche and Gooseberry Falls state parks are typically buzzing with activity throughout the year, but as the COVID-19 crisis has grown, the number of people using them has begun to fall.
State park visitors centers, contact stations and other buildings have been closed to the public, but parks remain open to visitors with self-pay stations and information kiosks located near park entrances. In addition, all naturalist programming has been canceled for the time being, according to a news release from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Tettegouche interpretive naturalist Kurt Mead said earlier this week hiking traffic was pretty high, but as the week progressed the numbers started to taper off. With the visitor center closed, staff members had no contact with the public and no official numbers were available.
“It’s kind of sad and lonely around here," Mead said. "We’re used to people — that’s what we’re here for.”
Carlton County’s Jay Cooke State Park was nearly empty of visitors, with no one on the park’s swinging bridge and just a single unoccupied DNR vehicle near the visitor center.
The scene was different three days later, though. The visitor center remained closed but eight to 10 cars were in the parking lot with several groups moving around on the nearby trails.
Jesse and Renee DeWitte of Duluth took their dog, Maya, out on the trails for a nice long walk.
“We wanted to get out before the shelter in place order came down,” Jesse said.
They said there were just a few people around when they left the parking lot, but traffic had picked up considerably by the time they returned to the visitor center.
Earlier in the week, families and cars full of “college-age” students were coming to the park to take advantage of the trails and spectacular views at Tettegouche. Some families were taking advantage of the chance to be outdoors for a picnic, but numbers slowed to a trickle as businesses across the state began to close in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mead was hopeful the naturalist program could return in a modified form that allows programming to be delivered remotely or in a responsible, socially distanced way.
“We’d have to get permission to do that,” Mead said, “But within the naturalist world, there’s some creative minds that are working to do remote programs and talks.”
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