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Wright County News

Posted on: April 9, 2020

Parks & Rec Director Addresses Potential Scenarios for Campground, Shelter Reservations

During these troubling times dealing with the day-to-day changes that have been evolving as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate the lives of most people, there need to be plans in place for the future after the worst of the coronavirus has run its course.

For the Wright County Parks & Recreation Department, May 1 is the start of its busy season. Not only does general park traffic increase, but it is the beginning of the campground, public beaches and picnic shelter season. The popularity of these programs in recent years has resulted in the campgrounds and shelters being fully booked early in the reservation process. However, earlier Wednesday (April 8), Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz extended the stay at home order for Minnesotans to 11:59 p.m. Sunday, May 3. As a result, Parks & Recreation Director Marc Mattice announced Wednesday that campground and shelter reservations will be cancelled for the period of May1-6 with a revised start of May 7.

Mattice spoke with the Wright County Board of Commissioners at its April 7 meeting about an operations plan that would deal with four options – opening fully on May 7, having a limited opening May 7, having a delayed opening to a unspecified date and having the parks closed for the season.

Mattice felt it was necessary to have the different plans in place because, at the end of the day, it won’t be his decision to make when Wright County parks and campgrounds will be allowed to operate at normal capacity.

“We presented the county board with an operations plan for Parks & Recreation that would deal with different scenarios related to campground, swimming beaches and picnic shelters,” Mattice said. “Wright County Parks & Recreation will be following the guidance of the Minnesota Department Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and any orders that are issued by the governor of Minnesota.”

Mattice made it clear that his staff won’t simply be waiting to be told when the all-clear to go ahead with standard operations will come. They have already begun the annual process of getting the parks prepped for the seasonal increase of guests that come in the spring, summer and fall. As far as that goes, the situation is proceeding as normal in hopes that the parks and campgrounds can open in accordance with the revised date.

“As of now, we are implementing our plan to delay opening our campgrounds, beaches and picnic shelters until Thursday, May 7,” Mattice said. “But, we’re still waiting to see if that is going to be allowed. As a precaution so our staff can be prepared for whatever is going to happen when May 7 comes, we have developed an operations plan that would consider if we have a limited opening, a delayed opening or a seasonal closure of certain facilities. But, as we stand today, our hope is that we are going to be able to open our campgrounds, beaches and shelters on May 7.”

Mattice added that each campsite has at least 2,000 square feet of living space, so social distancing can be easily achieved under the protocol being used. But, as with many other operations where people congregate in larger numbers, it isn’t easy to predict what is going to happen because COVID-19 has been a fluid situation that has seen plans change from one day to the next.

“As things stand today, we’re in the process of preparing our parks, campsites, beaches and shelters as if we’re going to open on schedule May 7,” Mattice said. “We’re just waiting on any additional direction to come from the governor, the Minnesota Department of Health and Wright County Public Health. We are still more than three weeks away from that and hopefully as we get closer to that date, we’ll have a clearer idea of what that guidance is going to be. But, until we are told differently, we’re going to proceed with the preparation to open May 7. If it turns out that we have a limited or further delayed opening, we will be prepared to have everything ready when we get the approval to open.”

Mattice stressed that the multiple-scenario operation plans could be confusing to some because it may lend some to believe that the limited, delayed or full closure options are all that are available. As of now, the only firm decision that has been made has been to contact those with campground and shelter reservations from May 1-6 and offer refunds or the opportunity to reschedule for a later available date.

He is still planning to keep the parks opening in keeping with the revised schedule as he has done in previous years. But, he understands the frustration of people wanting answers to questions that he can’t provide because the high-level decisions that will be made whether or not open Wright County parks will likely be dictated by forces beyond his control.

“People want to know,” Mattice said. “Our parks are extremely popular and we have many of the same families that rent campsites year after year. It’s a tradition for them and we understand that. Not knowing is a problem, but what we can do on our end is assure people that we will be ready to open when we’re allowed to – whether that is to open fully May 7 or on a limited basis May 7 or a date later than that. We’re hoping everything will come off as planned. If it does, we will be ready to serve our park patrons. But, as we sit here today, not knowing is the issue.”

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