Not even late ice or low water could keep North Dakota's State Parks from their official opening day today. The parks are operational on a limited basis all year round, but summer hook-ups and facilities aren't brought on line until the weather permits. This year it almost didn't.
"Late ice started to make things a little antsy," said Gordon Weixel, N.D. State Parks spokesman. "Then it got real warm out. Last Thursday Lake Metigoshe was still covered in ice."
The ice left Lake Metigoshe Tuesday, just in time for the official summer opening of Lake Metigoshe State Park. A similar situation existed at Graham's Island State Park at Devils Lake. Ice there disappeared just in time to install boat docks on Wednesday.
"There was a little bit of complaining, but everybody's pretty happy right now," said Weixel.
After the latest ice-out anyone can remember, Weixel says he expects state parks to become very busy in the weeks ahead. There is some making up to do. Visitation during the first three months of the year was down 30 percent, mostly due to a long winter and a spring snowstorm that made travel difficult.
"Based on what I heard at sports shows this winter, I'd say people are more excited than last year," stated Weixel. "We sold a lot of season passes for 2013 during the winter."
Season passes are good for the entire season at all state parks.
Visitors will see some changes this summer, some immediately and others later in the season. Major projects include a new campground expansion at Graham's Island. Sometime after mid-July it is expected that 70 new full-service sites will be open for business. A new raised roadway leading to Graham's Island was completed last fall.
At Fort Stevenson State Park a new visitor's center is in the planning stages. Funding was recently approved by the Legislature. Construction could begin later this year. The center will be located immediately west of the current entrance booth at Fort Stevenson.
The park that has seen the biggest growth in the system, Lewis and Clark State Park near Williston, expects another busy season despite unfavorable conditions for the park's marina. Low water in Lake Sakakawea has led to closure of the marina for 2013.
"We'll lose some revenue because the marina won't be there," noted Weixel. "But visitation to that park continues to increase. I think about 2004-2005 visitation there was about 13,000 a year, then for several years maybe 20 to 25,000. Last year it was 108,000."
Something new will be tried this summer at Icelandic State Park in the northeast corner of the state a smoking ban.
"There will be no smoking in the park, at the beach, the picnic area next to the beach and at the amphitheater," said Weixel. "It's a pilot program that we hope will be self-governing."
Last year just under 2 million people visited state parks, much of it driven by water conditions and fishing success.
"When it comes to Fort Stevenson and Lake Sakakawea State Park, that's what draws people. Graham's Island too," stated Weixel. "People want to enjoy their stay and go fishing."