More state parks re-open, though restrictions remain in effect

    Courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources page on parks and recreation.
    Courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources page on parks and recreation.

    Starting on Saturday, Wisconsin’s state parks will begin adjusting their operations, while upholding recommended public health guidelines. All parks will return to regular hours from 6 am to 11 pm seven days a week, and no properties will be closed on Wednesdays.

    A limited number of day-use area restrooms will reopen on June 3. “Visitors are reminded to plan ahead,” states a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) press release, “as well as bring hand sanitizer in the event it is not available at facilities.” At least until June 7, however, all group, family and indoor group campsites will remain closed. Shelter reservations will also remain unavailable, and permit holders will be contacted and provided full refunds.

    Currently, the DNR is evaluating the possibility of reopening more events and activities after June 7. Rock Island State Park, however, will remain completely closed until July 1, and ferry operations to and from the island will be put on hold as well. The Dells of the Wisconsin River State Natural Area, Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area, Parfrey’s Glen State Natural Area and Pewits Nest State Natural Area will also all remain closed.

    The news comes nearly a month after Gov. Tony Evers directed the DNR to re-open several state parks on May 1. During the state’s Safer at Home Oder, several state parks saw record numbers of visitors over brief weekends. Excessive litter soon shadowed the crowds, as well as vandalism and instances of a lack of social distancing. The state closed 40 parks in early April.

    Now the parks are opening back up. “The priority continues to be the safety and health of our visitors and staff and we still ask the public to continue recreating responsibly close to home, practice social distancing, frequently washing their hands, and only traveling for necessity,” the DNR states.

    Although the statewide approach to combating the spread of COVID-19 has been overturned, government agencies continue to promote social distancing. “The DNR will continue to turn the dial on additional outdoor recreation opportunities, amenities and services at our state park system properties,” the department states. “Visitors are also encouraged to wear face coverings in situations where social distancing may be difficult.” Annual park stickers and trail passes are required, going into the Memorial Day weekend. Temporary capacity restrictions will also remain in effect to prevent overcrowding.

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.