State parks system loosening capacity restrictions, reopening facilities

Playgrounds are now open and outdoor shelters can hold up to 100 people.
Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 3:53 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 30, 2021 at 7:17 PM CDT
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BARABOO, Wis. (WMTV) - On Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources made some changes to state park operations.

At all Wisconsin state parks, observation towers and playgrounds are now open.

Jamie Hancock, a frequent visitor to the state parks, says she’s looking forward to bringing her children to the play areas.

“I have little kids and they like to have too, but when you open up the playgrounds and everything, that’s an added bonus for them,” said Hancock.

The DNR has also increased capacity at open-air shelters, amphitheaters, and outdoor group campgrounds to 100 people. Capacity for a non-department led special events permit also increased from 50 to 100.

“Over the course of the past year, we have been closely monitoring the health activities going on and making adjustments to our operations when it’s safe to do so,” said Brian Hefty, Wisconsin State Parks Deputy Director. “We’ll continue to do that with public safety being the number one priority for us.”

Stand-alone concession facilities are allowed to open to the public at 50 percent capacity, including staff.

Visitors to Devil’s Lake State Park say seeing these changes is a sign of normalcy.

“We need to be social and out in nature and to just get back to our normal way of life,” said visitor Luke Menke. “I just love it here and I’m very grateful for this place.”

The DNR says so far this year overall attendance has increased by 25 percent compared to 2020.

“I just noticed there was a lot more people than normal getting out and enjoying, instead of being stuck inside and kept at home,” said Menke. “It’s so much nicer to be able to get out and get into the parks and get around nature.”

Hefty says state park staff will continue to monitor public areas and keep an eye on park capacity limits. If the crowds grow too large, the staff can enact a temporary capacity closure.

“Once properties reached a certain level, we would implement a closure for that property,” said Hefty. “It’s something that we used last year that was very effective for us.”

DNR officials say it’s a good problem to have and they want people to enjoy the state parks system.

“We’re excited about that increased activity,” said Hefy. “Being outdoor enthusiast, it’s really nice to see people getting outside and improving their physical and mental health.”

To learn more about the changes to spring operations, click HERE.

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