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Itasca State Park re-opens today; other parks by the weekend

Itasca State Park reopened today. The campgrounds, gift shop and visitor center are all open, said Matt Snyder. The dining facilities at Douglas Lodge and Mary Gibbs will be open the weekend, he said.

Wilderness Drive is undergoing some maintenance and will reopen this afternoon.

Below are the operation openings by day:

Thursday, July 21, 2011 the park is open for day use normal hours (8 a.m. to 10 p.m.), campgrounds are open, the  gift shops are open normal hours (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center normal hours (weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., weekends 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.); Itasca Sports rental is open normal hours; Lake Itasca Tours will resume regular tours at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Friday, July 22, 2011:

Douglas Lodge will open for LODGING at 4 p.m.

Mary Gibbs Center Café will be open from 1-5 p.m.

Saturday, July 23, 2011:

Douglas Lodge Restaurant will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Mary Gibbs Center Café resumes normal business hours (10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.)

Nature programs resume--check out the calendar on the Itasca State Park Page of the  MN DNR website for updated programs.

Sunday, July 24, 2011:

Douglas Lodge Restaurant resumes normal business hours  Breakfast: 8-11 a.m.; Lunch 11:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Dinner 5 to 8 p.m.

Other Minnesota state parks will open for day and overnight use as soon as Friday, July 22, but other facilities will not be open until the weekend, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials said today.

DNR employees returned to work Thursday, July 21, after the agency and state government was shut down July 1 due to a state budget impasse. For state parks and trails employees, the first day of work will be focused on making sure parks and trails are safe for public use.

For some parks, a best-case scenario means they will reopen for day and some overnight use within 24 hours of staff returning to work. For overnight use, it may take two days or longer for staff to make campgrounds and facilities suitable for customers, which includes clearing away storm debris, turning on utility systems and cleaning restrooms.

Up-to-date information on park operations and other DNR functions can be found on the agency's website at . A red, yellow or green symbol will indicate the closed, partially open or open status of individual parks, trails and forest recreation areas on the website. The availability of specific facilities within parks will be noted as well.

Customers will not be able to get reservation information by telephone from the ReserveMN system until July 26, but they can call individual parks starting Friday to check their specific reservations.

The biggest challenge for state parks and trails is making sure downed trees are cleared, trails and campsites are safe and water, electricity and restrooms are available. Numerous storms across Minnesota in July left debris and otherwise damaged parks, said Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR's Parks and Trails Division.

"We ask for the public's patience as we reopen state parks after being closed for nearly three weeks," Nelson said. "We want to make sure parks are not only safe for the public, but that they can provide the high-quality experience our customers have come to expect."

Anglers and hunters are now able to purchase their licenses as well. The DNR's Electronic Licensing System (ELS) is operational, which means boat and other licenses can also be renewed. Licenses can be purchased through one of the DNR's ELS vendors, which include sporting goods stores and bait shops. Licenses can also be purchased by telephone and online at .

"We wanted to make sure that was one of our first operations to start up," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

Information on the status of other DNR functions, such as managing hunting seasons; water, mining and other permits; state timber sales; state forest campgrounds; and environmental review projects will be available on the DNR website on Thursday.

State parks that may require more time to reopen are Afton, Lake Bronson, Camden, Upper Sioux Agency, Flandreau, Blue Mounds, Wild River and St. Croix. Those parks sustained facility and tree damage that will take longer to clean up.

St. Croix State Park will be closed indefinitely while staff assess building and other damage from a July 1 windstorm.

Current overnight reservations will be honored at individual parks as they reopen. New reservations will not be accepted until July 26 at 8 a.m. The DNR's reservation system has a backlog of shutdown refunds that must be made to customers before new reservations can be accepted.

Landwehr said DNR employees are eager to return Thursday and restart the agency's business. "We'll be happy to be back in business and ready to serve the public," he said.