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Minnesota shutdown doesn't keep tourists away from closed parks

BEAVER BAY -- Ice cream shops along the North Shore were bustling Tuesday under a blazing July sun. The normal bevy of people waded in the pool below the falls on the Gooseberry River. And highway traffic in every direction seemed as busy as usua...

BEAVER BAY -- Ice cream shops along the North Shore were bustling Tuesday under a blazing July sun. The normal bevy of people waded in the pool below the falls on the Gooseberry River. And highway traffic in every direction seemed as busy as usual for a full-fledged summer vacation week.

By contrast, all 70 campsites at Gooseberry Falls sat eerily quiet and empty, with only deer, wood chucks and chipmunks moving about in what normally would be a campground full of tents, RVs and kids.

Northern Minnesota continues to draw tourists despite the Minnesota government shutdown but, for many, their plans have experienced a shake-up.

For Keith Nelson, a St. Louis County commissioner who owns a convenience, bait and gas store south of Eveleth along U.S. Highway 53, the shutdown has meant renting portable toilets for a flood of travelers who have been locked out of the Anchor Lake rest stop a few miles south. Nelson's store is the first business northbound travelers come to after the barricaded state stop.

"If the state of Minnesota deems rest stops nonessential, maybe we should close the bathrooms at the state Capitol and see what they say," Nelson said, noting Minnesota was "treating its guests poorly."

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For Andrew Martin and sons from Columbus, Ohio, and grandmother Janice Martin of Barnum, it meant a long, hot walk from Highway 61 to see the falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park. Like other North Shore parks, people are still visiting Gooseberry even if they can't drive in or camp in the campground. Dozens of vehicles lined the highway Tuesday.

"I think it's shameful the government did this. I think they (state lawmakers) should all be fired," Janice Martin said.

The Arthur family of Tucson, Ariz., said they made their planned trip to the North Shore even after learning of the state government shutdown. They were going to visit as many state scenic sites as possible but planned to stay at a private resort.

Gooseberry "was one of our destinations, one of the places we had on our list to see, so this isn't that big of an issue" to walk a little farther, Tami Arthur said.

The Ferrian family from Brainerd said about the same, saying they decided to make the trip after learning they could still get into state parks even if they couldn't camp there.

"It's good they aren't locking people out just because they are shut down," Kurt Ferrian said. "It was important for my dad to be here with our kids, just like I came with them when I was little."

Resorts and private and municipal campgrounds were bustling in the area, and Fourth of July celebrations were reportedly packed. But Kelly Fenstad, an employee at the Cedar Chest shop in Beaver Bay, said business was way off over the holiday weekend as campers and other tourists spent their money somewhere else.

"The Fourth of July is usually our busiest time of year. But it was pretty dead in here," she said. "People are driving by, but they aren't stopping to shop. I think they're too worried about finding a place to stay up the road.

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"A lot of people were just asking where they could find a place to stay, especially people who are camping," Fenstad said.

While some tourists have been locked out of state park campgrounds, others have been hit harder by the inability to buy fishing licenses.

Nelson said the shutdown has meant an increase in his business as cross-legged travelers who stop to use his bathrooms also buy a candy bar or gas. But he also noted that many out-of-state customers left angry over the long weekend when they were unable to buy a fishing license.

Nelson said the state government shutdown may leave a bitter taste in the mouths of some travelers who may decide next year to vacation in Wisconsin, Michigan or Canada.

"Short term, our business is up. But I know that's not going to last," Nelson said at Tuesday's County Board meeting in Duluth. "I'm worried about five years from now."

Meanwhile, state Conservation Officer Dan Thomasen said parking was an issue at the some of the state parks Friday and into Saturday but got better as the weekend progressed. Hikers and bikers can still use the state parks from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The problem was that people were parking along Highway 61 and blocking the park entrance, which needs to be kept clear for emergency vehicles. Those areas have now been marked with cones, and no parking is being allowed near the entry to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, where large road construction equipment is located and some road work is still ongoing.

Law enforcement responded to two rescues at North Shore state parks over the weekend, one Saturday afternoon when a woman broke her leg at Gooseberry and had to be carried to an emergency vehicle on a litter. On Sunday, three people swimming in the Baptism River at Tettegouche State Park were swept toward or into Lake Superior and required rescue, Thomasen said. They were transported to an area hospital for examination.

Despite the parking and traffic problems, people didn't become angry at law enforcement officials, Thomasen said. Thomasen didn't hear of any vandalism in the area's state parks, but the DNR offices in Grand Marais were spray-painted, he said.

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News Tribune staff writer Steve Kuchera contributed to this report.

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