A popular Minnesota state park likely will remain off limits to hikers, bikers and beachgoers well into the summer season, as record floodwaters continue to lap at the park's roads and trails.
Fort Snelling State Park gets a million visitors a year, but has been shut since March because of flooding on the Minnesota River. It's been the longest stretch of high water on record in the Twin Cities, and according to the most recent North Central River Forecast Center projection, levels are expected to rise slightly over the next several days.
"Until we are able to address and assess flood damage and begin those repairs, we will remain closed," assistant park manager Nick Bartels said during a tour of the park Thursday. "We hope to be back open to the public at some point by July."
With Memorial Day approaching, the park would begin its busiest season, were it not for the high water.
A 50-foot section of access road washed out. Another road, to Picnic Island, remains under several feet of water. As the high water receded, a floating fishing dock from Snelling Lake was left on a trail. The water main serving the park's offices broke open, leaving the area without running water for the time being. The long-lasting high water also has left large quantities of silt and sand on trails and fields.
The park's entrance building and visitors center remained above the floodwater, although some of the restrooms and outbuildings elsewhere in the park were inundated.
Bicyclists trickle through the park. On Thursday, they were stopped by park staff and asked to leave.
"For the public's safety and for the safety of the staff and for the workers that are trying to repair the park, we are encouraging people to please respect that the park is closed until we have been able to assess all the damage and make sure it's safe for the public to reenter," said Rachel Hopper, the Department of Natural Resources' visitor services and outreach manager.
"Afton, William O'Brien, Nerstrand Big Woods, Interstate and Wild River, and Lake Maria, all those parks are open," Bartels said. "It's a great opportunity, if you're a regular visitor to Fort Snelling to take the opportunity to get out and explore those new locations."