Weather Forecast


Take a hike

All Minnesota state parks, including Afton State Park, have been closed since June 30 after the state entered into a government shutdown.1 / 2
St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park has seen a slight influx in daily visitors over the last week.2 / 2

Many Minnesotans had their Fourth of July plans foiled when state politicians' failure to reach a compromise on a two-year budget resulted in a government shutdown and the closure of all of Minnesota's state parks.

However, park-goers and campers weren't completely without a paddle over the holiday weekend -- Minnesota's regional parks and Wisconsin's state parks were still open for business.

"There are definitely people who are frustrated," said Kelli Bruns, superintendent for Willow River State Park in Hudson. "All of our state parks are so important, but we're lucky that we have parks available in Wisconsin and regionally."

Regional solutions

Over the weekend two of Washington County's regional parks, Lake Elmo Park Reserve and St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park, saw an influx in park attendance.

On July 4, Lake Elmo Park Reserve had a record-setting number of visitors with 1,409 one-day parking passes sold, resulting in roughly 5,000 people at the park, said park manager Mike Polehna.

However, he said it's hard to determine if the increased attendance was the result of the state shutdown.

"We're busy no matter what, so I'm not sure if the increase was because of the weather or the state shutdown," he said. "It was perfect park weather."

Polehna said both parks, which have campgrounds, were receiving dozens of calls from folks looking for camping alternatives after their state park camping plans were scratched.

However, Polehna said both Lake Elmo Park Reserve and St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park were unable to accommodate those campers because all campsites are booked through the end of August.

"The parks are always full," he said. "A lot more people use our county parks than they realize."

Lake Elmo Park Reserve includes 106 campsites, a swimming pond, a boat launch, picnic shelters and bike trails.

Over at St. Croix Bluff Regional Park there are 76 campsites, picnic shelters, a boat launch and paved trails.

Polehna said right now he is trying to get the word out that Lake Elmo Park Reserve and St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park are open for business, since it's a common misconception that both locations are state parks.

The Wisconsin alternative

Across the river, Wisconsin's state parks have been seeing a similar boost in attendance.

Even though Willow River State Park's campsites are essentially full now through Labor Day, Bruns said they have seen increased daily attendance similar to the regional parks.

Over the past week, Willow River State Park has seen its daily attendance practically double, Bruns said.

"We've seen more people coming over here during the shutdown because we are open," she said.

Willow River State Park includes 150 campsites, trails, a nature center, scenic overlooks and a boat launch.

"It's not unusual to see a lot of Minnesota residents," Bruns said. "But we've definitely seen an increase."

Bruns said just last week they were able to book a campsite during the week for a Minnesota family that had originally booked a campsite at a Minnesota state park.

"Luckily we were able to help them out and they were able to pick up the campsite," she said.

Bruns said the increased attendance shouldn't have any adverse effects on the park.

"We're usually ready to handle large crowds," she said. "Our biggest concern is that everyone comes and has a safe and enjoyable experience."

A little further north, Interstate State Park, in St. Croix Falls, Wis., has been receiving a lot of the traffic its sister park - Minnesota's Interstate State Park - would be receiving.

"They drive up and see that it's closed, and we're right across the river if people are still planning on getting out," said Kurt Draeger, superintendent for the park.

Draeger said the park has been seeing between 10 and 15 more occupied campsites per night.

Interstate State Park has 82 campsites, a swimming lake, overlooks and trails.

If you do find yourself at one of Minnesota's regional parks or at a Wisconsin state park, park officials remind visitors that Minnesota state park passes are not valid.

Washington County Board is scheduled to discuss this week whether or not to honor state park passes at the regional parks.

Bruns and Polehna said the parks would continue to be available throughout the shutdown.

"At times like this, people can visit other places they haven't before and find new places to visit and recreate," Bruns said. "We're going to do our best for any resident whether they're from Wisconsin or Minnesota."

For more information on Washington County parks visit and click on the parks tab.

For more information on Wisconsin state parks visit

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

(651) 702-0976