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Slowly, state parks reopen after Minnesota shutdown

Rick Gradin and Dan Lind wash windows at the Gooseberry Falls State Park visitors center Thursday. (Brittany Berrens / Lake County News-Chronicle)1 / 2
People flocked to Gooseberry Falls State Park on Thursday. (Brittany Berrens / Lake County News-Chronicle)2 / 2

State parks in the Northland began opening their gates Thursday for the first time since the state shutdown started July 1. Gooseberry Falls State Park opened its visitors center and parking area Thursday afternoon, and Jay Cooke State Park will be open to day visitors at the River Inn and the Swinging Bridge area this morning, park managers said.

Camping will resume at Jay Cooke in the afternoon and at Gooseberry in the evening. Gooseberry employees are mowing the grass at campsites before campers are allowed back in, park manager Audrey Butts said.

A handful of parks -- including Tettegouche, Temperance River and George H. Crosby Manitou -- already welcomed their first campers Thursday, but without amenities such as running water. Phil Leversedge, manager of the three parks, said they should be fully functioning today.

As of early Thursday afternoon, Leversedge said 10 to 15 people already had claimed rustic sites at Tettegouche.

"We had people arriving as soon as they saw the gates go up," he said.

As soon as state parks reopen, they will honor reservations made before the state shutdown.

If you made reservations to camp but have canceled your plans because of the state shutdown, Leversedge asks that you call the park anyhow. He said staff will help patrons obtain reservation refunds and will then be able to rebook any unused sites.

No new advance reservations at state parks will be accepted until Tuesday, with any available campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis during the interim, according to Chris Niskanen, Department of Natural Resources communications director. It's a good idea to call ahead and check on site availability to avoid a wasted trip.

Leversedge said Tettegouche will accept same-day phone reservations for available sites.

Employees at Gooseberry Falls State Park spent Thursday morning dealing with trash and picking up garbage from trails to get the park in top shape before visitors were allowed in, Butts said. Park conditions were as she expected them to be after a state shutdown -- as if nobody had been there to clean up for three weeks. In general, Butts said, she was pleased with how the park looks.

Dan Lind and Rick Gradine were working on cleaning the windows of the visitors' center. They spent the morning cleaning up the grounds and bathrooms and said everything looked pretty good.

"Most of them were pretty respectful," Lind said of the day visitors over the 20 days of shutdown.

"I expected it to be a lot worse than it is," Gradine said.

Some parks, such as Gooseberry, received heavy use throughout the shutdown when public bathrooms were closed, and Niskanen said feces disposal is a priority. "I understand there were people and dogs leaving little treasures for people to find later, and we'll be working to clean that up," he said.

Travis Novitsky and other workers at Grand Portage State Park spent the day answering the phone, mowing, clearing windfalls and picking up trash in anticipation of reopening today.

"With no one to take care of the trash, there have been some problems with people throwing garbage here and there," he said.

Jay Cooke State Park manager Eunice Luedtke said the park's campground should be open by 1 p.m. today.

"The guys are out mowing the campground," Luedtke said Thursday morning. "We have to flush out the water lines. We hope to have that done by this afternoon. Then we have to get the hot-water heaters going."

She said campers with reservations at the park should continue calling the park at (218) 384-4610 to see when the campground will reopen.

The park's day-use area at Oldenburg Point may open Saturday, Luedtke said.

The state DNR reservation center's first order of business will be to deal with all the fallout from the shutdown.

"We've got thousands of refunds to process, and it will take four to five days to clear them," Niskanen said.

Niskanen said he expects most parks to be back up and operating in a matter of days, but he said storm damage at the St. Croix State Park near Hinckley and Camden State Park near Marshall has caused those parks to be closed indefinitely.

The reopening of Minnesota state parks, trails and recreation areas can be tracked on the Minnesota DNR website. A color code denotes whether parks and trails are still closed, partially open or fully open. The DNR will update the site as parks and trails come online again.