Gov. Evers directs DNR to close 40 state parks, forests, recreational areas

MADISON -- As part of a continued effort to flatten the COVID-19 curve, Gov. Tony Evers directed the Department of Natural Resources on Thursday, April 9 to close dozens of state parks until further notice.

Kettle Moraine State Forest

At Kettle Moraine State Forest - Lapham Peak in Waukesha County, barriers will soon block the public paths. Visitors hit the trails Thursday -- one last time before they'll be left untouched.

"We do not want people to get sick. And we have a responsibility to protect the public," said Preston Cole, Wisconsin DNR secretary.

Gov. Evers initially encouraged Wisconsinites to take advantage of outdoor activity, even waiving state park fees amid his safe-at-home order. In response, Cole said they have seen a spike in visitors.

Preston Cole and Tony Evers (2018)

"When we have unprecedented numbers -- 13,000 or 14,000 people that cycle through a day in a weekend, it is far more than what the staff can handle," said Cole.

Cole said the increase in visitors has also led to unfortunate incidents of vandalism and litter. Gov. Evers said dwindling cleaning supplies and mounting trash are challenges state parks are now facing.

"Pack in your garbage, pack it out, it's not hard to do. For someone who likes the outdoors, we do it all the time," said Anne Coffman, Kettle Moraine State Forest visitor.

Despite waiving fees, closing state park offices, visitor centers, and non-essential buildings to help minimize the transmission of COVID-19 at parks, Evers said the situation has reached a point where public safety in the parks and surrounding communities takes precedence over keeping these locations open. If the public does not follow social distancing guidelines and vandalizes property, he said more state parks may have to close.

Kettle Moraine State Forest - Lapham Peak

"It really saddens me that the parks are closing," said Sharon Rooker during her visit to Kettle Moraine State Forest Thursday.

Evers said keeping park visitors healthy is the driving force behind the change.

"It's a two-edged sword here, but I guess we got to go along with the social distancing," said Lee Rooker, Kettle Moraine State Forest visitor.

The following Wisconsin State Parks, Forests and Recreational Areas will close at the end of the day Thursday, April 9, and WILL REMAIN CLOSED beginning Friday, April 10, until further notice:

Northeast Region

High Cliff State Park

Southeast Region (FOX6 viewing area)

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


    DNR officials also say state linear trails -- for example, the Hank Aaron State Trail in Milwaukee County -- will remain open.

    Gov. Evers issued the following statement in a news release:

    "I wanted to keep state parks open for the public to enjoy during this challenging time which is why outdoor activity is listed as an essential activity under the Safer at Home order. Unfortunately, growing difficulty with ensuring social distancing compliance, dwindling cleaning supplies and mounting trash are some of the challenges faced by our state parks staff. We have to address the growing public health and safety concern and protect Wisconsinites."