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DNR: No state parks reached capacity this weekend despite beautiful weather

WAUNAKEE (WKOW) -- Even with sunny conditions and temperatures in the 70s, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Sunday none of its state parks reached capacity in the first weekend since they reopened.

Governor Tony Evers announced his decision to close the parks on April 9, citing overcrowding, vandalism, and people not adhering to social distancing guidelines. Initially, state parks remained open and were even free admission during Evers' initial "safer at home" guidelines.

On April 28, Evers announced the parks would reopen but people would need an annual parks admission sticker. Under the reopening guidelines, the DNR will monitor for safety capacity; should any parks reach that capacity, visitors will have to wait until others leave the park.

"We were hoping not to use that if at all possible but I think because of people spreading out, maybe listening to some of the different things we put into place, the need for the admissions sticker, all of those things have really helped to spread out visitation," said Missy Vanlanduyt, the DNR Recreation Partnership Section Chief.

At Governor Nelson State Park on Sunday, Ida Fingerson, Jason Marcum, and four-year-old Phoenix had a picnic along the shore of Lake Mendota.

"We really like this park; it's always really clean," Marcum said. "(Phoenix) loves the playground and the sand. You've got the water."

For a family with a cooped-up child, the vast open space of a state park was a welcomed sight.

"There's nothing he can do," Fingerson said. "He can't go to the children's museum or a library or anything. We've just been stuck at home."

While plenty of families capitalized on the opportunity to visit state parks once more, Vanlanduyt said there was no surge of visitors similar to what occurred after the initial "safer at home" order.

"I'll give you Devil's Lake for a good example," Vanlanduyt said. "Last year, Devil's Lake had about 8,000 visitors over this weekend, similar weather. This year, they had about 6,000."

Vanlanduyt said a couple of reasons might have kept attendance from exceeding the first weekend of May in 2019. First, park admission stickers are now required for anyone to get in. Visitors can only buy those stickers online or by phone. The other reason is that camping is still not allowed.

People spending less time at the parks also may have contributed to none of the parks reaching peak capacity.

"Especially with the bathrooms being closed, we are noticing that people are coming out for shorter stays," Vanlanduyt said. "So they may be coming and hiking for one or two hours instead of staying for six or seven."

Vanlanduyt said there were also no issues with vandalism this weekend. The DNR reminds the public that admission stickers can be bought over the phone between 8 am and 3 pm seven days a week or online.

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Neena Pacholke

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