Last summer was a wild one for state parks in southwest Minnesota, with a severe storm and a state shutdown combining to put a damper on the summer camping season.
However, staff at area parks say they're looking forward to a better season while getting ready for visitors.
"We're looking forward to having a busy summer again. It's been a couple of years since everything's been normal," said Chris Ingebretsen, assistant manager at Lake Shetek State Park.
Factors ranging from weather to the shutdown last year and construction on campsite areas all had an affect on park visitors.
This year, however, Lake Shetek will be celebrating its new Sunrise Campground and the newly redesigned Oak Leaf Campground. The campground updates, which include water, sewer and electrical hookups, are unusual for Minnesota parks, Ingebretsen said, and a draw for campers.
Besides preparing for an open house and grand opening ceremony for the campsites on June 9, Ingebretsen said park staff have been busy doing maintenance work.
"We do a fair amount of tree trimming," he said, as well as maintenance of the beach and lakeshore at the park. "This year, we installed a new fishing pier. There were a lot of people out fishing during the opener."
Further north, staff at Camden State Park and Upper Sioux Agency State Park have also been preparing for summer visitors. David Breyfogle, assistant manager at Camden Park, said spring maintenance has included making sure campsites are clean and ready for visitors and grooming trails.
"We're on track, and we're looking forward to a good season," Breyfogle said. "The staff we have is experienced, and knows what has to be done."
While conditions like the aftermath of the July 1 storm or the wet summer of 2010 can be disappointing for park attendance, Breyfogle said they couldn't be avoided.
"When your resource is the natural world," he said, anything can happen. "The stuff you don't like happens, too."
Some cleanup work after the storm is likely to be ongoing, parks staff said.
"We did a lot of cleanup in the weeks after the storm," Breyfogle said, but dead or damaged tree limbs continued to fall during the winter and spring.
"There'll be a windy day, and it comes down," agreed Terri Dinesen, manager of Upper Sioux Agency State Park.
Dinesen said the dry, mild weather this winter and spring has had a big impact on campgrounds at Upper Sioux Agency.
"We didn't flood this spring," Dinesen said, compared to last year, when campsites near the Minnesota River were flooded three times.
Mild conditions also allowed staff to do more work during the winter, including maintenance for riverside campsites and removing invasive buckthorn bushes.
Ingebretsen, Breyfogle and Dinesen said they're anticipating a lot of park visitors for the Memorial Day weekend. Campground reservations at all three parks were nearly full for the holiday weekend, and Ingebretsen said there were lots of reservations for summer weekends at Shetek so far. However, they said there are still plenty of opportunities for campers to visit area parks, especially on weekdays or non-holiday weekends.
Area state parks will also be hosting a variety of programs this summer. At Camden, Breyfogle said, a new geocaching program themed around native bird life will start in June, and the University of Minnesota Astronomy Department will be holding "Universe in the Park" programs at both Camden Park and Lake Shetek.
Ingebretsen said there will also be some new recreational programs at Lake Shetek, like an introduction to standing paddleboarding.
At Upper Sioux Agency, Dinesen said, the park will be part of remembrances of the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War. The Minnesota Historical Society will be placing interpretive panels and offering a multimedia tour of significant places along the Minnesota River Valley.
The tour is designed to be accessed by mobile phones and includes multiple perspectives and stories from descendents of people affected by the war, the Historical Society said.
Information on programs and campsite reservations at the Minnesota DNR's website, www.dnr.state.mn.us.