Gov. Evers reopens several state parks with restrictions

Bathrooms at all state parks to remain closed.

MADISON, Wis.  — Gov. Tony Evers plans to reopen several state parks, forests and natural areas this Friday.

Earlier this month, Gov. Evers ordered the Department of Natural Resources to close 40 of the state’s most popular parks and forests, after they saw an uptick in visitors, litter and vandalism.

“Every decision that the administration has made, we put public health and safety first. That means we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions in the last few weeks, but these decisions have helped us save lives,” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said Tuesday morning.

The DNR will open 34 of the 40 previously closed parks on Friday.

The parks will have a 75 percent capacity limit based off the DNR’s formal master plan for each location.  Park staff will identify key entrance points and monitor the amount of visitors in and out of parks. Parks will temporarily shutdown once they are at capacity.

“We will take every measure possible to make sure these temporary capacity-based closures are as short as possible while still implementing the goals and objectives of that strategy,” said Mark Aquino, the acting parks director for the DNR.

Park staff and wardens also have the right to remove any visitors not following proper social distancing guidelines. To meet these guidelines, all playgrounds, observation towers and visitor centers will remain closed.

The new order also keeps bathrooms closed at all state parks.

“The bathrooms continue to be pinch point for us,” said DNR Secretary Preston Cole. “We are asking people to go to the bathroom before they enter the park.”

Campgrounds will remain closed until May 26.

State parks will also have new hours of operation. Starting Friday, they’ll only be open from 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. Previously, visitors could stay until 11 p.m. Properties will also close every Wednesday for maintenance.

Visitors will also need to have an annual park pass to obtain entry. State park stickers and trail passes are available for purchase by phone 8 .m. – 3 p.m. seven days a week at 1-888-305-0398.

Some popular closed locations include Gibraltar Rock, Pewitt’s Nest, Parfrey’s Glen and the Wisconsin River Dells. DNR staff said the design of these parks make it difficult to follow proper social distancing guidelines.