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Sam Smith's bike and boat rentals will suffer as a result of the state shutdown that affects Itasca Sports Rental and the park. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Shutdown hits campers, businesses, road work

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Park Rapids Enterprise
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Sam Smith's 11 pontoon boats bobbed quietly on a blistering Thursday afternoon before Minnesota's busiest holiday weekend was to start.

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Ideally, those boats should have been ferrying tourists up and down the shores of Lake Itasca.

The co-owner of Itasca Sports Rental was securing his fleet of 150 rental bikes, locking down the kayaks and laying off his staff of 10.

One of three park vendors, Itasca Sports Rental will sit behind heavy wooden gates barring the public from the park and the Mississippi Headwaters.

He characterizes his and wife Caren's financial losses for the weekend as "massive."

"It's one of our busiest weekends that pretty much pays the bills," Caren Smith said.

The couple waited until late Thursday for an 11th hour reprieve. It was not to be.

"In 2005 we were very unaware of what was going on," she said. "It was our first year owning the business. I guess we were just blissfully unaware of 2005," when government had an 8-day partial shutdown.

"It didn't affect us because they kept the parks open," Caren Smith said. "We didn't get any letters for temporary suspension like we did this year."

The Smiths have heard from angry campers who feel since their tax dollars fund the park, it should stay open.

"We have a family to support," Caren Smith said. "I've been reading that some people think if government shuts down it's the best thing that can happen. But it does affect people like us."

And Caren Smith said the ripple effect would be felt throughout the region.

"The economy of the area, it's a trickle down effect," she said. "There's convenience stores (and other businesses that service park customers.) "Then it comes down to even our radio advertising so it's a trickle down effect."

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Work crews stayed late into Thursday evening working on the Highway 34 paving project between Park Rapids and Dorset, making it "traffic ready."

DOT workers spent Thursday in shutdown mode. The main artery between resort towns Park Rapids and Walker was hastily striped and opened with 4 inches of newly laid asphalt, not the 5.5 inches specified in the government contract.

The shoulders of the highway were being packed since they couldn't be paved by midnight. Friday morning orange cones warned motorists of the low sandy shoulders.

DOT project supervisor Larry Randall was headed to his Bemidji office late Thursday to turn in his vehicle and office keys.

He planned to spend Friday morning fishing, and he wasn't happy about it.

DOT's website will be barely maintained during the shutdown, said spokesperson Karen Bedeau. Only emergency personnel will work.

Allan Minnerath, superintendent of Central Specialties, Inc., the general contractor, said paving and road equipment will likely be moved to other jobs, possibly out of Minnesota.

If that happens, when government gets back to work, it could take awhile for him to relocate his work crew back here, Minnerath indicated.

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Convenience stores throughout Park Rapids were hearing from customers first thing Friday.

Lottery tickets can't be sold during the shutdown.

"It's a lot of work for the 5 percent we earn, but I'm already tired of hearing from customers," one clerk said before 8 a.m.

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Back at Itasca, 10-year-old Nathan Anderson has a few words of wisdom for Gov. Mark Dayton, spoken as he rolled up his sleeping bag.

"They need to agree on a budget plan so we don't have to shut government down," the Stillwater boy urged.

Anderson and his extended family were being politely evicted from Itasca State Park Thursday afternoon as government services ground to a halt. Campgrounds closed at 4 p.m. Douglas Lodge closed its doors at 5.

Sister Kallan Anderson agreed. The 11 campers were loading several vehicles.

"We really had fun but we have to cut it short," she said sadly.

Nathan was struggling with the economics of the shutdown.

"We've been trying to explain to the kids all day why government can't solve its problems so they have to shut down," aunt Natalie Beaulieu explained, stumped for a simple explanation.

"It's disappointing," said Minneapolis resident Theresa Lee, whose family made a quick detour to Itasca so they could visit the Headwaters for the first time.

Lee said the political climate needs to change. And she was very thankful the family had booked a reservation at a nearby resort, not in the park.

Park employees were preparing to go on unplanned and unpaid vacations. They had spent weeks preparing for this day, warning campers making reservations that a shutdown could occur,

The park closing was orderly. But the employees weren't happy campers. Then again, they probably weren't going camping.

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Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.
(218) 732-3364
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