A lot of eyes and ears will be focused on Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and his daily press briefing today because he is expected to announce whether his current “stay at home” Executive Order is going to be extended, allowed to expire or be modified.
Few people will be listening to Walz more intently than Wright County Parks & Recreation Director Marc Mattice, who intended on spending today preparing for the first full weekend of the campground season. When the initial stay at home order was extended, it pushed back the opening of Wright County campground sites from this weekend to Thursday, May 7. Mattice said his plan, while contingent on approval from the governor later today, is to open full parks campground operations next Thursday.
“We’re still planning and prepping for May 7,” Mattice said. “If we hear something different, we’ll adapt to what we’re told. We have to. We don’t really have a choice on our end.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has already altered Parks & Rec in a significant way. All spring programs for April and May have already been cancelled and, depending on what Governor Walz has to say, cancelling June activities remains on the table.
But, Mattice is ready to open county parks to the extent the state will allow and was encouraged by the loosening of restrictions that Walz approved last week.
“The plan is still to open campgrounds and other facilities, but we don’t know what the governor is going to say,” Mattice said. “Last week, he said the campsites that are typically used as a seasonal residence that snowbirds use could open, but community facilities – smaller campsites, restrooms, shelters, community rooms – couldn’t be opened yet.”
If the governor doesn’t allow for public areas like bathrooms and shelters to open, Parks & Rec will adjust to a limited opening that would require campers that have self-contained bathrooms to enter county parks.
While not the ideal scenario, Mattice and his staff have multiple contingency plans in place to cover a full opening, limited opening, delayed opening and full cancellation. He has already had to invoke one and is prepared for whatever new potential roadblock is placed in front of him.
“We had a plan in place in the event we were delayed, which is what has happened,” Mattice said. “We were supposed to be open this weekend to kick off the camping season, but we pushed that back to May 7. We have a plan in place to push things back farther if that’s what the state tells us, but we’re prepared for whatever level they let us open. We’ll be ready for it.”
Depending on what the governor has to say, Mattice will adjust his plans accordingly. But, even in a worst-case scenario, there are still many parks activities that are up and ready to go, whether the parks get the go-ahead to open fully or on a limited basis.
“We’re ready to go when we get the word we can,” Mattice said. “All of our docks are in place. All of our fishing piers are in except the one in Montissippi Park because the water is too high. Our disc golf course at Clearwater/Pleasant Park is open. Our archery ranges are open. Our mountain bike trails at Bertram are open. Our equine trails at East Ney Park are open. We’re trying to get everything open as quickly as we can so we’re ready when we get the green light.”