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Ready for camping action

The Lakeview Campground at Sibley State Park was nearly full with campers and tents Thursday before the Fourth of July weekend. Most empty campsites had reservation notes attached. Tribune photos by T.J. Bartelt

NEW LONDON -- Everybody prepares for the Fourth of July weekend. Plans need to be made, things need to be packed and all the little things need to be remembered.

It's no different at Sibley State Park near New London, where staff have worked hard -- not just this week -- to get ready for the busiest weekend of the year.

"The big thing we're doing is trying to get everything mowed," noted Paul Otto, the park's manager, on Wednesday. "Reservations are all filled we only have one electric site available. It started Sunday with campers and phone calls coming in asking about availability."

"The Fourth of July is the busiest week of the year for us for traffic, permit sales and gift store sales. We've been doing a lot of painting and building repairs to get everything into shape for customers."

Maintaining a state park goes on continually, but this year Otto said the jobs needing to be done have been helped along from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment, which has pumped additional funding into the Parks program.

Otto has been able to hire more park staff and expand programs at Sibley this year. The popular Interpretive Center will see more people this year than in recent times.

The Legacy funding has also added a partnership with the MinnAqua program, giving Sibley a part-time naturalist, who works half of the time at the park and the other half in the region putting on fishing and water safety programs for MinnAqua.

Besides being the busiest time of year for Minnesota's state parks, it's also the end of the fiscal year for state departments. Otto noted they've had to do some last-minute work to spend the remaining budget dollars or lose that money.

"We've had some gravel hauled in (for various jobs) and septic tanks pumped," he joked.

The June rains have been a boon and a hindrance for Sibley. Otto said the park is really green and lush, but it's hurt some of the work that needs to be completed.

"Luckily, the storms passed us last weekend, so we haven't had to do much cleanup," he said. "We've had 16 days in June with measurable rain, so it really restricts what we can do."

Willmar Fests effect

The additional staff have worked hard this week to get ready for the holiday weekend, but Sibley will be without one staff member, who has other duties to attend. Megan Michaelis, who works in the main park office, was crowned Willmar Fests Queen of Festivals last weekend and will be participating in area parades and events.

"She has those duties this weekend, but Megan has been a great addition to the staff," Otto said.