Nowhere to go during state shutdownUnfortunately, the shutdown means there are no facilities open at state parks, most importantly – toilets.
So far during Minnesota’s government shutdown, the attitude of state park enthusiasts has been to ignore “closed” signs and hike in. Unfortunately, the shutdown means there are no facilities open at the parks, most importantly – toilets.
People visiting Gooseberry Falls State Park have made notice of that fact, coming upon signs of hikers answering nature’s call just off the trails.
There’s nothing park manager Audrey Butts can do about the situation — “I’m not employed there right now” — but she doesn’t blame the visitors for going where they will. She’s visited the park a few times during the shutdown that began July 1. “I’ve been impressed with the behavior,” she said Monday. As for those going to the bathroom on park grounds, she wishes visitors would plan ahead and go at a gas station but “what are you going to do? It’s a long walk down to the lake and there’s family and kids. Things are going to happen.”
There was a chance earlier this week that at least the portion of Gooseberry near Highway 61 could have opened. A state trucking association pled in court to keep waysides open during the shutdown so truckers could park rigs and rest overnight and avoid using off ramps and other areas deemed dangerous next to highways. A judge on Monday denied that request.
Garbage is also piling up at the parks, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Dan Thomasen said Monday before a patrol of Tettegouche State Park. He said there were hundreds of cars parked along Highway 61 near Gooseberry the weekend of the Fourth of July and it means they are packing things in and filling up trash barrels.
There are open vault toilets at Gooseberry but Butts said they “aren’t where people are” and may not have any toilet paper available.
“It’s gone,” Thomasen said of the paper at vaults at Gooseberry and the two parks after it, Split Rock and Tettegouche.
Thomasen’s job has chang-ed dramatically with little time left to go into the field after rounds at parks. “I try to get to get to a lake so things kind of seem normal,” he said of his new duties since the shutdown in “asset protection” at the parks. “It takes a while to check those every day.”
The DNR has an official stance on parks during the shutdown: Don’t go. But day use is legal during the shutdown with park officials admitting it would be difficult to completely shut people out, especially at the popular parks like Gooseberry and Split Rock in the height of the summer tourism season. They are the first two parks past Two Harbors on Minnesota Highway 61. There are six more state parks between Split Rock and Grand Portage near the border with Canada.
One place that is strictly off limits to visitors is the Split Rock Lighthouse Historic Site, manager Lee Radzak said. The 25-acre historic site is within the boundary of the DNR-operated Split Rock Lighthouse State Park but is administered by the Minnesota Historical Society. All society sites across the state are closed and not open to any foot traffic.
The lighthouse area, a National Historic Landmark, “necessitates a higher level of protection than the state park areas, and is therefore off limits to the public,” Radzak said.
Radzak was appointed as an “essential” employee during the shutdown to provide protection at the lighthouse. He lives on the property. “I have had the opportunity to talk to many park users, many who have tried to access the historic site.”
Doing a job
Thomasen said people have been frustrated but polite to DNR officers at the parks.
Darin Fagerstrom, a DNR conservation officer in Cook County, said people coming from out of state have no idea about the shutdown. He said things have settled down at the parks after some parking issues were resolved at entrances to allow space for emergency vehicles.
Fagerstrom said he’s spent much of his time “patrolling” Cascade River State Park, southwest of Grand Marais, “protecting property” and being available in emergencies.
Fagerstrom and Thomasen said they hadn’t come across anyone fishing without a license, something that can’t be processed during the shutdown.
Thomasen said he runs into people who ask what might happen if the they fish without a license. “We’re not going to tell people to go ahead and fish,” he said, although the level of enforcement officers are expected to use during the shutdown is a bit “up in the air.”
When asked if he might end up being asked to empty trash barrels, Thomasen laughed uneasily. “I hope not.” He said he feels for state park workers left without a job to do. “here we are working every day and they’re stuck at home.”
The Lake County Board of Commissioners approved three expenditures to keep advocacy programs going in the county. Board members were careful in how they phrased the resolutions in light of the state shutdown, hoping legislators won’t deem the funding as a sign that the county can pay for the programs without state grants.
While the wait is on about child care funding during the shutdown, the county covered money not coming in this month for supporting families with disabled children ($814 total), adult independent living services ($947), and for crime victim advocacy, which is usually paid for quarterly by the state through a $30,000 grant.
County administrator Matt Huddleston said many funding issues remain in limbo during the shutdown, including state tax payments and county aid.
The shutdown has meant no more work on the walking trail along County Highway 26 in Two Harbors or the State Highway 61 reconstruction project near the Split Rock River. It has also idled work one the finishing phases of the community center in Finland and delayed restoration of the Mallet steam engine at the Depot in Two Harbors.
Lake County will be responsible for contractor costs to maintain the single lane traffic control signal on Highway 26 during the shutdown.