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Campers Joan and Gordon Olson of Upsala listened to Crow Wing State Park Manager

No go for Fourth of July weekend at Crow Wing State Park

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No go for Fourth of July weekend at Crow Wing State Park
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Crow Wing State Park is usually booming with visitors over Fourth of July weekend. 

Not this year. 

With the state of Minnesota potentially shutting down Thursday night, state parks found themselves with few answers in regards to what to do with campers’ reservations. Without a budget passed, state parks, including Crow Wing, would have to ask campers to leave and close the park gates indefinitely. 

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Workers at Crow Wing State Park spent most of Thursday trying to answer questions from park guests wondering about the park’s availability over the holiday weekend. “We just don’t know — we haven’t gotten the official word,” said a Crow Wing State Park worker who asked not to be named. “You just feel incompetent. You can’t even give an honest answer.”

Brainerd resident Jade Nelson was visiting her parents Thursday afternoon at their Crow Wing campsite. Nelson’s two children, Gavin, 11, and Alayna, 6 were visiting with their grandparents when Nelson came to pick them up in light of the potential closure of the park. “It’s kind of a shame,” Nelson said. “I definitely didn’t think it was going to come to this.”

Nelson said her parents were disappointed about the closure, but were considering moving their camping weekend to Dower Lake, a smaller, city-operated campground in Staples. “What a crappy time for this to happen,” Nelson said. “With the holiday and all — I know they are really bummed out.”

William Allen, an art teacher from La Crosse, Wis., said he drove six and a half hours to the Brainerd lakes area to camp for the holiday weekend. 

“I just got done with summer school so I thought I’d come up for a few days,” he said. “I had no idea it was actually going to close down.”

Allen said he arrived with his two dogs at the campground on Tuesday night and was told he could pay for two nights. “I was just hoping they would come up and say — you know they straightened themselves out — and tell me I could pick up a few more nights,” said Allen who was planning on his brother joining him for the remainder of the holiday weekend. “I guess that won’t happen.”

Coming from Wisconsin, a state that has dealt with its own political unrest this year, Allen said he can relate to the frustrations Minnesotans are facing. “I’m a little disappointed,” he said. “I leave the lunacy in Wisconsin and I find out its happening here, too.”

Just before 4 p.m., Thursday, Allen said he still didn’t have a clear answer as to what he should do. He said if he was forced to leave the park he would pack up his camper and head down to his brother’s home in Rogers. “I’ll just go camp in his yard.”

Allen said his concern was more for those with state park reservations that would have to be canceled for the holiday weekend. “For a lot of people this is their weekend,” he said. “Now there is no place to go ... They lose their vacation because politicians can’t figure it out.”

Joan Olson of Upsala, spared no feelings in her reaction to the park shutdown. “It just makes me mad,” she said. Olson and her husband had planned to spend the holiday weekend camping in Crow Wing State Park, and said with the park closing they would likely just head home. “I feel sorry for the people with  reservations,” she said. “Now what are they going to do?”

Olson, a member of the Upsala City Council ,said there is no excuse for the delayed budget agreement and impending shutdown. “If I couldn’t balance my little city’s budget and put my residents at the expense the state has put taxpayers — I better get out of my chair,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned they should be fired. They’re not representing the people, they’re representing the parties. 

“Figure it out. It seems pretty simple to me.”

Crow Wing State Park Manager Paul Roth said he and his staff are feeling the weight of what a shutdown means for the park. “This is kind of the peak of our summer season,” he said. “There are so many ramifications involved.”

Roth said campers can make reservations at the park up to a year in advance, and normally Fourth of July would be a full weekend for the park’s campgrounds.

“When people make reservations they assume they’ll have a place to camp,” said Roth, who is concerned that sending park visitors home on such a busy weekend may jeopardize future visits.  In addition to the campgrounds, the shutdown will force to park to close its boat landings, hiking trails, picnic areas, and information offices. 

Roth, who worked at Crow Wing State during the 2005 government shutdown, said he is not sure what re-opening will look like for the park. Once the park does close, the gates will be locked and park workers will put barricades in place. There is no set time or date for re-opening until the budget is passed.

 Roth said, remembering back to 2005, that the Legislature went up to the wire in settling on a budget. The park closed in the afternoon on June 30, 2005, and received a phone call around midnight that night saying they could re-open. “It felt very surreal,” Roth said. “It should have been a very busy time and there was no one around.”

SARAH NELSON may be reached at sarah.nelson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5879.

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