Camden State Park Manager Bill Dinesen has known for weeks that the July 1 storm that left plenty of marks around the area left a few at Camden as well. Trouble is, neither he nor his staff have been able to get into the park to do anything about it because of the ongoing state government shutdown that has entered its 19th day.
Dinesen, park manager at Camden for the last 11 years, was able to partially assess storm damage at the park recently, but all that did was remind him of all the extra work it will take to get the park operational and make sure it's safe for the public to use again once the shutdown ends.
"We have a lot of storm damage down there, so that will be the first thing we'll take care of once the shutdown ends," said Dinesen. "Once I get the call that we can reopen, I have to call the staff back and get going. We have a lot of trees down on our roads into the park, on the lower end, into the campground beach. The upper campground has trees down on it."
Lake Shetek State Park’s new Sunrise Campground would normally be full of people at this time of the year, but thanks to the government shutdown, it’s still
waiting for its first visitors. The campground was supposed to open to the public July 1 — which turned out to be the first day of the shutdown.
Dinesen said the first thing he and his staff needs to do once they are allowed to is get all the roads opened up. After that they will turn the water back on and open up all the buildings.
He expects that will take about two or three days.
"We have to go through and make sure the campgrounds and buildings are OK and the systems are working fine again since they've been down for almost three weeks," he said. "We'll need to make sure there are no hazards."
Dinesen said, all told, it will take about a week to get the park open and fully operational once the shutdown ends - that includes cleaning up all the trails in the park.
"There's nothing normal about this," he said. "The storm put left another twist into the whole shutdown."
Dinesen said there's no way of knowing how much revenue Camden in particular has lost because of the shutdown that left all state parks shuttered during the Fourth of July holiday. He can't even access last year's numbers because the computer system at the park has been shut down.
"It's been somewhat frustrating because we aren't able to really get into the park to really look at it," Dinesen said. "We have some powerline issues, there's hazard conditions there."
Dinesen's frustrated from a personal point of view as well.
"It's been difficult not to be able to go to work and do what we were hired to do," he said. "I see people on the street or somewhere and they'll say, 'How's your vacation?' Well, it's not a vacation. Normally you get paid for having those days off. But it's allowed me to get some things done around our own place."
For Dinesen and his wife, Terri, the shutdown has been doubly bad. She's the park manager at Upper Sioux Agency State Park near Granite Falls.
"It's a little more difficult for us; it's a double-dip," he said. "We just hope it's gonna finally be over and can get back to work and what we've always done."
At Lake Shetek State Park in Murray County, park staff was gearing up for a huge summer prior to the shutdown with a new campground that was set to open this month.
That excitement had to be put on hold, however, and now park manager Kerry Christoffer is hoping to salvage what's left of summer. His main priority is getting the popular Zuya Group Center up and running again. Zuya is one of about a half dozen state park group centers in Minnesota and can hold up to 80 people for family reunions, church functions, or other group functions.
"My personal priority is to get that going again; it was booked for all summer," Christoffer said. "We'll really try hard to get those facilities up and running. A number of people lost their reservations and we'll try to get that up and running as quickly as possible. It's very popular."
Christoffer said he and his staff will do an assessment of all the park's facilities including utilities, the water system and each building facility.
On a personal level, Christoffer is baffled about the state's definition of public safety. While public safety was deemed an essential service as it was during the 2005 shutdown, Christoffer wonders how park rangers were not included in that group.
"I can't get my arms around their definition of public safety," he said about state lawmakers. "It's not my call, but I can't image that if you take park rangers from around the country out of the parks that there wouldn't be an issue about public safety in the parks."
Christoffer said this was the first Fourth of July he's had off since 1976. But by no means was it by choice.
"That's because I chose this as a career," he said. "I'm not complaining, it's just odd not being there doing what we do and having absolutely no control over anything. We've missed about three weeks now, but we'll get back and get things back up and running. Our first priority is the safety end of it - if we open up this week there will be the challenge with the heat index. I'm not gonna put anybody at risk to prove we can get it open fast. We'll do the best we can given the conditions and go from there."