DNR seeks patience as parks open

Published 10:02 am Friday, July 22, 2011

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is opening up again, but it will take awhile before everything is operational.

DNR employees returned to work Thursday, but it may take some time for Parks and Trails employees to get state parks going. They are spending their first few days back checking trails and facilities for safety.

For some parks, a best-case scenario means they will reopen for day and some overnight use within 24 hours of staff returning to work. However, it may take two days or longer for staff to make campgrounds and facilities suitable for overnight customers.

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Customers will be able to get reservation information by telephone from the ReserveMN system by July 26. They can call individual parks Friday to check their specific reservations. The DNR’s reservation system has a backlog of shutdown refunds that must be made to customers before new reservations can be accepted.

Myre-Big Island State Park near Albert Lea is open for day use with the picnic sanitation building and outside water available. Mowing in several areas may not be complete, but the White Fox campground is open with sanitation and outside water available. Little Island Class III group camp is open as well, but Big Island campground and the camper cabin are closed until electricity can be repaired. Rental equipment may also not be available until Saturday or Sunday at many parks.

At Lake Louise in LeRoy, some day use is available, including the trails and picnic area.

Numerous storms across Minnesota in July left debris and otherwise damaged parks, said Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division.

“We ask for the public’s patience as we reopen state parks after being closed for nearly three weeks,” Nelson said. “We want to make sure parks are not only safe for the public, but that they can provide the high-quality experience our customers have come to expect.”

Anglers and hunters can now purchase their licenses as well. The DNR’s Electronic Licensing System (ELS) is operational, which means boat and other licenses can also be renewed. Licenses can be purchased through one of the DNR’s ELS vendors, which include sporting goods stores and bait shops, or on the DNR’s website.

“We wanted to make sure that was one of our first operations to start up,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

Landwehr said DNR employees are eager to return Thursday and restart the agency’s business. “We’ll be happy to be back in business and ready to serve the public,” he said.

Though area fisheries were operational during the shutdown, fisheries can now answer their phones, as well.

On the wildlife side of things, managers were already out in the field getting caught up on Thursday. Emily Hutchins, who was in the area wildlife office Thursday while Manager Jeanine Vorland was in the field, said the shutdown didn’t worry her until it started lingering.

“At first I wasn’t worried,” she said. “It just seemed like a slight problem up in St. Paul, and as time went on, it became apparent it was a lot more worse than I perceived it to be. … It was worrisome.”

Up-to-date information on park operations and other DNR functions can be found on the agency’s website at www.mndnr.gov/reopen. A red, yellow or green symbol will indicate the closed, partially open or open status of individual parks, trails and forest recreation areas on the website. The availability of specific facilities within parks will be noted as well.