The online reservations system for Minnesota state parks reopens Tuesday morning, nearly a month after closing for the state government shutdown.
Minnesotans can begin reserving campsites and cabins for the coming year at 8 a.m. today, and all but four of the state parks are back in business.
St. Cloud resident Shelly Athmann, 47, and her family had planned a camping trip to Itasca State Park over July Fourth, but were forced to cancel when Minnesota government shut down on July 1. While her family was disappointed about missing their trip, Athmann worries more about the long-term effects of the shutdown on the state park system.
"This isn't just going to be 20 days the parks are closed," Athmann said. "It's going to go for longer, and we talked to some people also they say 'Well, next year we are not going to go back to the state parks.' "
July is the biggest month for camping in the state parks.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will have to work to win back customer loyalty, said an official with the agency.
The DNR's Courtland Nelson likens the effect of the shutdown during the summer season to the all-important shopping month between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"People were inconvenienced and plans were upset and group events were tossed out, and we do need to display our best work moving forward and helping the public get reacquainted with us."
During the last week of July 2010, the 66 Minnesota state parks had about 348,000 day visitors and 59,000 overnight visitors. Most campsites cost $20 or less to reserve, and day passes are cheaper.
The DNR is still tallying the cost of the shutdown but based on last year's revenue, Nelson estimates it cost the park system more than a million dollars in lost revenue, mostly from canceled reservations.
Last weekend Itasca State Park was about three-quarters full. The park is typically at capacity this time of year and near impossible to find a camping spot, said Jeff Karels, assistant park manager.
"Normally it's pretty much full — wall to wall — all of the day-of-use activities are pretty busy, the beach, the restaurants, all the parking lots, the campground, the concessions are pretty full this time of year. But slowly things are picking up."
Karels hopes people will come back as word spreads that state parks are open for business.
Four parks remain closed due to storm damage: Camden, Old Mill, St. Croix and Upper Sioux Agency.
The DNR continues to process refunds for people who lost their reservations during the shutdown. They expect administering refunds will take a few more days.