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Budget woes close camp areas

Budget woes is causing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close a number of Mississippi River camp areas, including Lake Winnibigoshish and Federal Dam.

Budget woes is causing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close a number of Mississippi River camp areas, including Lake Winnibigoshish and Federal Dam.

"These sites are being closed because of reduced funding levels this year," Mark Davidson, Corps' St. Paul District public affairs officer, said earlier this month. "These sites should open up for the 2007 recreation season because the president's 2007 budget, at this time, does provide funding to operate at normal levels of service."

The move caused state Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, on Friday to urge cooperation between federal and state governments to keep the sites open.

"These campsites are very important tourist destinations for north-central Minnesota," Moe said. "I've been in contact with the DNR and our federal elected officials and they've assured me that they're doing everything they can stop the closings."

Because of a budget shortfall, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would close four recreation sites from April through September:

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-- Gull Lake recreation area, no camping, near Brainerd.

-- Big Sandy Lake recreation area near McGregor.

-- Leech Lake recreation area near Federal Dam.

-- Lake Winnibigoshish, no camping, near Deer River.

The four recreation areas have more than 600,000 campers and visitors annually, the Corps said. More than 1.45 million people use the Corps' 20 recreation sites in Minnesota annually.

In addition, the Corps will open on a limited basis in 2006 the Gull Lake day use area near Brainerd, Pokegama Lake recreation area near Grand Rapids, Cross Lake recreation area near Brainerd, Lake Winnibigoshish day use area near Deer River, Lac Qui Parle Dam day use area near Watson, Lake Traverse and Orwell Lake recreation areas near Wheaton.

The areas open on a limited basis will have near normal physical services, said Davidson.

"But there will be a significant reduction in water safety programs and interpretative programs," he said. Each specific Corps site is being reviewed to assess what will be open, and what will be closed at each of the sites.

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"The recreations sites were all closely reviewed for closure or to operate on a limited basis, for their impacts to the visiting public and local economies if closed," said Davidson. "Cost of operation, in-house staffing availability, ability to physically close the areas and total funds available were also key factors that we reviewed."

There are U.S. Forest Service, state of Minnesota, county, municipal and private parks that can be used nearby the Corps' recreation areas that are being closed in the Headwaters area, Davidson said.

But Moe said it is important to keep the sites open, and hopes that some kind of agreement can be made between the Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Natural Resources.

According to Moe, thousands of dollars have already been collected for reservations for this summer; refunds are scheduled to begin around April 2. If the campsites do close, it would have a serious impact on this summer's camping season, he said.

"From the fishing opener through hunting season these campsites are busy," Moe added. "Our region's economy depends on these campsites. We need to do everything we can to make sure they stay open."

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