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Flooding dampens fun during busy season at Minnesota state parks

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It's the busiest time of the year for Minnesota state parks, but recent wet weather and flood damage has kept some visitors away.

“If the weather is nice, boy, people are just coming out. ... I was at Buffalo River (last) Monday and the pool was full. It was in the 80s,” Chris Weir-Koetter of the DNR's northwest region told Forum News.

But Thursday, there was rain and “the pool was empty.”

Not only has the rain lessened the number of visitors at the state's parks, but it's also caused damage at many of the parks. Most of Minnesota's 76 state parks and 25 state trails are open, but some campgrounds, trails, fishing piers and public water access has been affected by excessive rain this month, the DNR says.

Flooding has been so bad at Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne (pictured) and Fort Snelling State Park on the Canadian border that they are completely closed until further notice, the state Department of Natural Resources says.

“We decided it was in the best interest of our visitors to close the park until repairs could be made and services restored,” Kathy Dummer, southern region operations manager for the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division, said in a news release. “We want their experience at the park to be a good one.”

The DNR has canceled all camping reservations at the two parks through at least July 13.

The DNR recommends checking a park's main website for information on the latest conditions before planning a visit. It is also reminding park goers that river levels are high, so boaters and swimmers should use caution.

Growing in popularity

More people have been visiting Minnesota's state parks in recent years thanks to the growing number of people taking "staycations," the DNR says.

Nearly 9.2 million people visited state parks in 2009 and visits topped 9.5 million in 2010, Forum News says.

The three-week government shutdown dropped park visits to 7.77 million in 2011, Forum says. The DNR lost nearly $1 million in revenue a week in July due to the shutdown, NPR News notes.

Since then, numbers have bounced back. In 2012, state parks hosted nearly 8 million visitors and 8.7 million in 2013, according to statistics from Forum and the DNR.

“We got off to a slow start last year due to the cold, wet spring, so it was gratifying to finish 2013 ahead of 2012,” Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division, said in a news release earlier this year. “We’re obviously pleased to see evidence of increasing interest in Minnesota’s 76 state park and recreation areas. This news comes at a time when national parks and many other states are reporting significant declines in their visits and overnight stays.”

Will 2014 follow suit? It depends on whether wet weather gives way to a dry summer and a long, pleasant fall, Forum News says.

Did you know?

Here are five things you might not have known about Minnesota's state parks:

– For the techie: Some state parks have Wi-Fi to allow visitors to get away but still stay connected, if needed. Parks also offer podcasts, virtual tours and geocaching.

An annual permit, which gives unlimited access to all the state's parks and recreation areas for a year, is only $25.

– Minnesota residents can fish for free in most of the state's parks – and you don't need a fishing license. Some parks even offer free fishing kits for people to use.

– Parks are offering more services. Visitors can check out GPS trackers for geocaching and borrow binoculars for bird watching for free. People can also rent the park's kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards.

– Parks are getting a facelift. Forum News says the DNR is adding more efficient lighting and updating restroom facilities in its parks. The DNR is also working to update its outdoor spaces to make them more accessible for people with disabilities.

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