Wisconsin DNR to reopen many state parks, forests starting May 1 with ‘new safety guidelines’

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday, April 28 directed the Department of Natural Resources to reopen several state parks, forests, and recreational areas originally closed due to unprecedented crowds and out of an abundance of caution to protect public health.

“With a few adjustments, like closing one day a week for maintenance and reduced hours of operation, folks should be able to get outside and enjoy our parks safely and respectfully,” said Gov. Evers in a news release.

CLICK HERE to view a state map that shows the parks, forests ready to open

“The great staff at DNR have created a plan to allow our parks to reopen, again with new safety guidelines, so that we can turn the dial just a little bit,” said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

The DNR will reopen 34 state parks and forests on Friday, May 1 under special conditions to help minimize overcrowding, allow for social distancing requirements, and to promote a safe and enjoyable experience for staff and visitors.

“We have to limit the amount of people who come into the parks. It’s not everybody in the pool any longer,” said Preston Cole, Wisconsin DNR Secretary.

Like others, Harrington Beach State Park will open with limited admission, based on capacity.

“Dial that back to about 75 percent of the maximum,” said Mark Aquino, DNR Secretary’s Director.

When “Safer at Home” took effect, state park admission fees were waived; however, part of the reason 40 state parks were closed earlier this month was due to unprecedented crowds.

This time around, annual park stickers or trail passes are required — and social distancing will be enforced.

“Law enforcement’s role is to remind everybody in the parks they have to pay close attention to social distancing. Law enforcement is there and park staff is there to make sure people are paying attention.” Cole said.

Boat launches are open, but restrooms on all properties will remain closed. Camping will also be restricted until May 26.

“It will definitely be a process of monitoring, observing, and adjusting as we go along,” Aquino said.

Wisconsin state park property updates

ADMISSION REQUIRED STARTING MAY 1

  • An annual park sticker and/or trail pass will be required to visit state parks and trails.
  • Annual stickers will be available for purchase with credit card by phone 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. seven days a week by calling toll free: 1-888-305-0398. We thank you in advance for your patience as we may be experiencing heavy call volumes.
  • Annual passes are NOT available for purchase at individual properties. Visitors must have an annual admission sticker adhered to their vehicle or proof of purchase for entry.
  • Once proof of purchase is shown, visitors must place proof of purchase on the dash of the windshield while parked within the boundary of the property.
  • The 2020 annual vehicle admission sticker is valid through Dec. 31, 2020.

HOURS OF OPERATION

State parks and forests will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, a change from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Properties will be closed to the public every Wednesday for maintenance and upkeep.

Northern Forests, Flowages, Lower Wisconsin Riverway, and Wild Rivers will be open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.

Specific properties listed below:

  • Black River State Forest
  • Brule River State Forest
  • Chippewa Flowage
  • Flambeau River State Forest
  • Governor Earl Peshtigo River State Forest
  • Governor Knowles State Forest
  • Lower Wisconsin State Riverway
  • Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest
  • Pike Wild River
  • Pine-Popple Wild River
  • Turtle Flambeau Flowage
  • Willow Flowage

Hunting and fishing will be allowed on all open properties in accordance with legal season structure and hours. Access to some areas may be limited to walk-in or water access only.

The following properties will remain closed for the health and safety of the public, staff, and property integrity:

  • Gibraltar Rock state natural area
  • Pewit’s Nest state natural area
  • Parfrey’s Glen state natural area
  • Dells of The Wisconsin River state natural area

BOAT LAUNCHES

  • DNR boat launches are open at open state properties.
  • All anglers and recreational boaters should practice social distancing and keep travel to a minimum.
  • If individuals can lawfully access Wisconsin’s rivers and lakes, they are free to navigate upon them while engaging in outdoor recreation.

TRAILS

  • All linear/rail trails are open to the public, which includes ATV trails.
  • The Ice Age Trail remains open.
  • An annual state trail pass is required for anyone age 16 or older biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding or in-line skating on certain trails. A state trail pass is NOT required for walking or hiking. The annual trail passes are valid through Dec. 31 of the year they are issued.

RESTROOMS AND BUILDINGS

  • Restrooms at all state properties will be closed. This includes the closure of restrooms on properties currently open to the public.
  • All other facilities will remain closed, including towers, shelters, playgrounds, nature centers, headquarters, contact stations and concession buildings.
  • Attractions where social distancing cannot be achieved will be closed as needed at various properties.

PRE-DETERMINED SAFETY CAPACITY LIMITATIONS

At times, many properties will likely reach their pre-determined safety capacity. When this happens, visitors may be denied entry to the park until existing visitors leave. Visitors are encouraged to explore other DNR recreation areas or visit during non-peak hours before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.

State Parks likely to temporarily prohibit additional visitors include:

  • Copper Falls
  • Devil’s Lake
  • Governor Dodge
  • Governor Nelson
  • Harrington Beach
  • Hartman Creek
  • High Cliff
  • Interstate
  • Kinnickinnic
  • Kettle Moraine Southern Unit
  • Lapham Peak
  • Perrot, Rib Mountain
  • Roche-a-Cri
  • Whitefish Dunes
  •  Willow River

CAMPING AND EVENTS

Camping, group camps and shelters will remain closed until May 26. Refunds will be issued to all customers.

Limited numbers of remote, backpack and boat-in campsites are available on a first-come first-serve basis.

A list of some of the properties offering this type of camping include:

  • Brule River State Forest
  • Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area
  • Dunnville Wildlife Area
  • Flambeau River State Forest
  • Governor Earl Peshtigo River State Forest
  • Governor Knowles State Forest
  • Meadow Valley State Wildlife Area
  • Tiffany Wildlife Area
  • Van Loon State Wildlife Are
  • Willow Flowage

Volunteer activities remain suspended at DNR properties.

All events and special event permits are canceled until May 26.

The public should follow simple steps to prevent illness and avoid exposure to this virus including:

  • Avoid social gatherings with people of all ages (including playdates and sleepovers, parties, large family dinners, visitors in your home, non-essential workers in your house);
  • Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and water;
  • Covering coughs and sneezes;
  • Avoiding touching your face; and
  • Staying home.

 

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