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You Can Still Visit a National Park in the Twin Cities
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 04, 2013 7:05 pm    Post subject: You Can Still Visit a National Park in the Twin Cities Share topic on FB Add User to Ignore List Reply with quote

Yes, the Federal government is shut down … and yes, that includes the National Park Service.

But it’s a little known fact that a few select National Parks can be visited … that is, at least a portion of the park. The parts of the National Park System that you can still visit fall under technicalities that prevent barricading the public out of certain areas:

• Railroads that run through national parks – they can’t shut down train service that just happens to pass through a national park

• Public roads that pass through national parks – streets and roads that are owned by cities, counties, and states can’t be barricaded just because the land on one or both sides of the road happens to be a national park

• A few of the newer national parks and national recreation areas include large areas of land the National Park Service does not own. These areas are called “participating sites” and they are mostly state, county, and municipal parks that have been incorporated into a national park – but they are still owned and controlled by their original owners.

Here are some places you can still visit that fall into one or more of these categories:

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Twin Cities, MN) is mostly made up of participating site local and regional parks that came into existence long before this national park was founded in the 1980’s. They are run by and remain funded by local taxpayers, so they should continue to operate for the duration.

This includes:

Minnehaha Falls, the most popular “participating site” attraction in the national recreation area.

Historic Fort Snelling, the second most popular “participating site” attraction in the national recreation area (owned by the Minnesota Historical Society, not the federal government). The rest of Fort Snelling State Park, including Pike Island also remain open.

Harriet Island is municipally owned and the privately owned Padelford Riverboat Tours that pass through Mississippi National River & Recreation area from Harriet Island to Pike Island also remain in operation through the end of the season.

Saint Anthony Falls Heritage Trail is also a “participating site” owned by the Minnesota Historical Society, remains open as does Mill Ruins Park and the Mill City Museum.

Saint Paul Union Station although a major historical site located just three blocks from the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area’s Visitor Center remains a working rail passenger station, transit center, and Minnesota historic site. You can visit anytime during its regular hours of operation.

Science Museum of Minnesota. Although there is a major outdoor exhibit maintained just outside this building (which may or may not be barricaded when you get there) and an official Visitor Center for Mississippi National River & Recreation Area in the main lobby (which will definitely be closed and locked for the duration), the museum itself owns the building and the Science Museum (including all exhibits about the Mississippi River on the main floor) and IMAX Theaters remain open.

Places like this outside the Twin Cities include:

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Akron/Cleveland area, Ohio) – Some “participating site” areas of the park are owned and controlled by Cleveland and Akron Metro parks. The main road that runs through the park is also owned by local governmental authorities. This means that you can still drive through the park and admire the fall colors. Bedford Reservation (Cleveland Metro parks) at the north end of CVNP remains open as do several Akron parks including Furnace Run and Deep Lock Quarry. Hale Farm and Village, one of the most popular tourist attractions (and a “participating site”) in the park, is owned and operated by the Western Reserve Historical Society. Their web site (http://www.wrhs.org/Properties/category-35717e6f-bb5e-4267-87b8-b8ed6b7227d3.aspx ) does not have any notice that they are closed for the duration.

The main attraction of the park, however, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has had to shut down for the duration because the right of way is owned by the national park service.

The Empire Builder (daily Amtrak passenger train from Chicago, IL to Seattle/Spokane, WA via Saint Paul, MN) still operates daily through Glacier National Park, passing through its entire width, with stops at East Glacier Station (Glacier Park Lodge), Essex (Isaac Walton Inn), and West Glacier (Belton). For the time being Amtrak has been spared from the government shutdown because, like the Post Office, it’s theoretically an independent corporation, not a government agency.

So you can see a good deal of the park from the train during the (roughly) 3 hours it takes for it to pass through. Glacier Park Lodge and Isaac Walton Inn are both privately owned lodging establishments, and continue to operate – BUT the rest of the park, including all the trails and campgrounds is closed for the duration, so hiking the trails near these lodgings isn’t going to happen for you on this trip – but the facilities of the hotel and the scenic views are still worth the trip.

And, I might add, Glacier National Park is ½ of a larger entity called Waterston Lakes International Peace Park. The other half is Canada’s Waterston Lakes National Park, which is still open for business (passport required to enter Canada, however).

The Spokane portion of the train also passes by Klondike Gold Rush National Park, which can be viewed from the train.

Minnesota Great River Road (Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61”). Technically this is not a national park, but (when there is no government shut down) Mississippi National River and Recreation Area has a volunteer guide give a tour of this portion of the Mississippi, passing along the river from La Cross (WI) through Winona, Red Wing, and ending up in Saint Paul. The morning southbound train towards Chicago passes through this scenery during daylight hours.

(Of course, there will be no volunteer “Trails and Rails” tour guide for either of these portions of the Empire Builder route, because that’s an official NPS program whose funds have been frozen for the duration. You probably can find a guidebook for each of these rail-side attractions from Amazon.com.)

Undoubtedly, there are other “saved by the non-Federal agencies and private sector” segments of the National Park System out there. These are just the ones I have first-hand knowledge of.

Happy Trails!


(a.k.a. Dave Katz from Voyageur Tours & Travel, Madison, WI)
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