“Welcome back. We missed you.”
It was the first thing Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Tom Landwehr said before announcing that the opening of Minnesota state parks, forests and facilities is ahead of schedule.
Originally scheduled to open at 8 a.m. Friday morning, Landwehr reported that as of 11 a.m. Thursday morning, 11 state parks are fully open, with an additional 15 parks partially open.
Follow this link for a list of the operational status of all DNR facilities.
While more than 2,700 DNR employees returned to work Thursday morning, parks and trails director, Courtland Nelson, explained that the most pressing job is still assessing the condition of the parks.
“We’ll be checking water and sewer lines and debriefing staff as quickly as possible,” Nelson explained. “Right now there are a lot questions. We’ve had some severe weather and recent vandalism. How much of that is out there, we don’t know.”
Landwehr said he hoped to have as many parks as possible open for the July 23-24 weekend and, in doing so, achieve three goals.
“We want to put smiles back on faces; Get revenue moving back into the parks and local economies; and return to some of our capital development projects,” Landwehr explained.
For those hoping to camp in the state parks, a bit of research is necessary but there are plenty of available sites.
“We expect great camping this weekend,” Nelson. “We have plenty of openings.”
Campers holding a reservation from before the shutdown will be allowed to use the facilities, provided they are in an open park. Those looking to make new reservations, on the other hand, will have to wait until 8 a.m. July 26 to do so.
Until July 26, camping in the state parks will proceed on a first-come-first-served basis.
Footing the bill
According to Landwehr, the shutdown cost the DNR approximately 10,000 camping reservations and as much as $850,000 per week from the park. Revenue lost from fishing licenses is approximately $1.2 million per week.
“It is hard to give an exact number but losses could be as high as $6 million for the shutdown.” Landwehr told reporters. “That is money that we’re not going to get back.”
Unfortunately the DNR cuts didn’t end when the shutdown did.
The DNR also saw a 15 percent reduction in its General Fund contribution when the Minnesota legislature passed the biennial budget early Wednesday morning.
But, as Landwehr pointed out, additional funds from the Legacy and Environment and Natural Resources bills may help to make up the difference. In addition, the legislature appropriated $103 million to the DNR from its $531 million Bonding bill.
For questions, the DNR encourages visitors to check out its list of FAQs.
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