State parks prepare for possible closure as shutdown looms

Jon Tatting North Branch Post Review

State parks including Wild River State Park will be closed to the public if the state of Minnesota goes into a government shutdown.

The clock is ticking as the Republican-controlled Legislature and DFL Governor Mark Dayton have yet to agree on a budget for the next biennium. A shutdown would take effect on Friday, July 1, if an agreement cannot be reached. However, a Minnesota judge may order to keep some of the more essential services intact.

Until then, state park officials are remaining cautiously optimistic yet realistic of the possibility of a shutdown, which would cause all naturalist programs to be canceled and foil visitors’ camping and special event reservations. Park employees will be on furlough, facilities will be locked and gates will block entrances.

“We will be out of business until the budget issue is settled,” said Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR Division of Parks and Trails, by telephone interview this week. “While we are hopeful (of an agreement), we are preparing contingency plans to close down the system.”

For now, park staffers are advising campers and special event groups to keep their reservations and assuring them that they will be fully compensated without penalty in the event their reservation is terminated due to a government shutdown.

With the busiest camping season almost here, the state park system as a whole stands to lose the $1 million in revenue it consistently receives from campers in the first week of July alone.

“It will be a tough pill to swallow,” Nelson continued. The park system counts on that money every year to help offset operating costs, while local businesses also gain from the increased traffic, he added.

Though the exact impact on the state on down to Main Street communities remains to be scene, Gov. Dayton has petitioned for a list of “critical services” to continue if government shuts down July 1.

What the governor has recommended to the court is state parks, while extremely important, are not a priority one critical service affecting life, health and personal safety, John Pollard, communications director for Minnesota Management and Budget, told the Post Review.

Those services that do fit the critical realm of Dayton’s plan include prisons, state troopers, emergency highway repair and programs for the disadvantaged. Ultimately, the court will decide on which services are deemed essential.

“We prefer a negotiated budget, but it’s our responsibility to plan for all contingencies,” said Pollard.