State parks continue to surge in visitor capacity

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

    As restrictions ease, scores of visitors continue to pour into Wisconsin state parks and other state lands. On June 10, state campgrounds reopened with certain modifications and restrictions. While encouraging Wisconsinites to explore their state’s “hidden gems,” the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) warns that some areas are already becoming overcrowded.

    “Devil’s Lake, in particular, has reached its capacity threshold every Saturday and Sunday since May 1,” DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye told Wisconsin Examiner. “With the start of the camping season, visitors to Devils Lake should expect more frequent and earlier capacity closures.” Once that happens, no vehicles or visitors would be allowed on the properties until people start to leave.

    Hoye notes that, “Devil’s Lake State Park isn’t the only property with routine capacity closures. The Kettle Moraine State Forest-Southern Unit has also seen regular capacity closures with several other properties coming very close, including Willow River, High Cliff, Lapham Peak, Pike Lake and Governor Dodge State Parks.” “Additionally, people who park along adjacent roadways may now be subject to citations and/or towing by local municipalities,” she warns.

    “We have countless natural gems across the state,” said DNR Secretary Preston Cole. “Opportunities to camp, hike, fish, swim, boat and bike are all across the state and just waiting to be explored.”

    Nevertheless, overcrowding can lead to issues. In April, Gov. Tony Evers ordered several state parks to be closed after they experienced record levels of visitors. Litter was up, and some properties also experienced instances of vandalism. On May 1, the parks were reopened and while restrictions and rules were put in place, crowds continued to surge. Capacity limits, social distancing recommendations, and other policies are intended to protect the lands themselves, as well as ease the burden on staff. It also helps lower the risk of contracting the virus for staff.

    Many state parks are home to rare plant species, which depend on sensitive ecosystems and landscapes, a press release issued by the DNR also notes. Imposing the capacity limits is just one piece of the DNR’s strategy of protecting these resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    DNR Chief Conservation Warden Casey Kruger notes that the department has worked to provide a safe and enjoyable experience at Devils Lake. “But we also need our visitors to do their part by not entering the property when a capacity closure is in place,” Kruger added.

    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.