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Wisconsin Gov. orders state parks, forests and rec areas closed

Tony Evers and DNR officials cite overcrowding, vandalism and not honoring social distancing as reasons for the closures.
Credit: Wis. DNR
Crowds like this at High Cliff State Park in NE Wisconsin helped convince Gov. Tony Evers to close the park and dozens of others where social distancing is not being practiced.

MADISON, Wis. — Citing unprecedented crowds, litter, vandalism and the need to protect the health and safety of visitors and staff members Gov. Tony Evers has directed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to close 40 popular state parks, forests and recreation areas. 

The following closures ordered by the governor are effective beginning Friday, April 10.

Northeast Region

High Cliff State Park

Southeast Region

Big Foot Beach State Park, Harrington Beach State Park, Havenwoods State Forest, Kohler-Andrae State Park, Kettle Moraine State Forest Lapham Peak, Loew Lake, Mukwonago River, Northern Unit, Pike Lake, Southern Unit, Lakeshore State Park and Richard Bong State Recreational Area.

South Central Region

Aztalan State Park, Belmont Mound State Park, Blue Mound State Park, Cadiz Springs State Recreational Area, Capital Springs State Recreational Area, Cross Plains State Park, Devil's Lake State Park, Fenley State Recreational Area, Governor Dodge State Park, Governor Nelson State Park, Lake Kegonsa State Park, Lower Wisconsin Riverway, Mackenzie Center, Mirror Lake State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, Nelson Dewey State Park, New Glarus Woods State Park, Rocky Arbor State Park, Sauk Prairie State Recreational Area, Tower Hill State Park, Wyalusing State Park, Yellowstone Lake State Park, Gibraltar Rock State Natural Area, Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area and Dells of The Wisconsin River State Natural Area.

State officials say the closures are necessary as several parks have had record attendance in recent days. For the weekend of April 4-5, High Cliff had an estimated 16,457 visitors, Lapham Peak had an estimated 11,168 visitors, Kohler-Andrae had an estimated 8,469 visitors, Devil's Lake had an estimated 7,647 visitors, Richard Bong had an estimated 3,884 visitors, and Mirror Lake had an estimated 2,870 visitors.

Harrington Beach, as one example, had an estimated 3,639 visitors for the weekend and has had more than 5,600 estimated visitors so far for the month of April. By comparison, the average monthly visitors at Harrington for the past 12 years is 9,695 for the entire month of April.

A news release from the DNR announcing the closures says the agency understands the public's need to get outside and enjoy the benefits of nature during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We know there are benefits to getting outdoors. By not doing this would put people's lives at risk," said DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole. "With the weather warming we are seeing increases in visitors and a myriad of challenges surrounding social distancing. In order to the protect the public, this is a necessary step."

Although the Safer at Home order signed by Evers recognizes outdoor activity as an essential activity, the DNR is advising people wanting to head outdoors to exercise in their local neighborhoods and maintain a social distance of 6 feet or more.

In an attempt to help minimize the transmission of COVID-19 at parks following the Safe at Home order, the DNR waived fees, and closed state park offices, visitor centers, and non-essential buildings. "Currently, the safety of our staff and visitors supersedes continuing operations at certain locations. If the public does not follow social distancing guidelines and vandalizes property, more state parks may have to close," the release reads.

The DNR reminds state residents that  the COVID-19 emergency is a rapidly evolving situation. For updates, visit the DNR website or follow @WIDNR on Facebook, @wi_dnr on Instagram, or @WDNR on Twitter.


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