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Sibley Park campers hope they don't have pull up stakes

James Uphoff, from left, Glenda Grussing and Andrea Uphoff relax Monday at their Sibley Park campsite. The friends have been camping together over the Fourth of July at Sibley for 15 years. They're hoping they won't be forced to leave early this year. Grussing is from Raymond and the Uphoffs are from St. James. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

NEW LONDON -- For the last 15 years James Uphoff has spent two weeks, including the Fourth of July, camping at Sibley State Park with family and friends.

Uphoff is hoping he and his wife, Andrea, won't have to pack up their fifth-wheel on Thursday -- his 69th birthday -- and head home to St. James 10 days early.

But if DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders don't strike a deal on the budget, campers will be kicked out of all of Minnesota's state parks at 4 p.m. on Thursday.

"It stinks," said James Uphoff.

"It's rotten," said Andrea Uphoff, who was busy knitting a prayer shawl at their campground Monday afternoon.

Prayer might be the only answer to a budget resolution given the different positions of both sides.

"They need to stop being so stubborn and think of others more than just themselves," said James Uphoff.

The Uphoffs made their reservations a year ago and paid the total bill in full at that time. "They've had our money for a long time," he said.

They got an email earlier this month warning them state parks will close if the state government is shutdown, but they opted not to cancel their reservations.

"We decided to come here and take a chance and hope they get their act together," said Andrea Uphoff of the lawmakers.

For those who did cancel their state park reservation and are looking for other campsites over the Fourth, there are few options left.

Most Kandiyohi County parks have been booked for months for the holiday.

"I'm getting a lot of phone calls," said Rita Olson, manager at County Park 7 on Games Lake, located just a few miles from Sibley State Park.

"They kind of have desperate voices ... I can't do anything for them. It's kind of sad," said Olson.

Karole and Denny DeJung, of Raymond, and their good friend Glen Edberg of Bloomington, have camped at Sibley for the same two-week period for 20 years.

If the park closes they'll have no choice but to go home, although Karole DeJung said they did tell a park ranger they intended to tie themselves to a tree with strong rope.

They were kidding. Maybe.

"It's not a good deal," said Denny DeJung, who'd like to see pay for legislators withheld until there's a budget agreement.

Edberg predicts that if a shutdown does happen it'll last a long time.

In the end the shutdown will cost taxpayers more money, said Karole DeJung.

It's estimated the state will loose $1 million a week in lost state park revenue during a closure. Campers also spend money in host communities, going to local restaurants and shops.

Jack Nelson, who took over as the new manager at Sibley State Park on May 15, after 21 years heading the St. Croix State Park, has been through one state shutdown already. He's taking the threat of another shutdown in stride while acknowledging that this is a "rather unique aspect of our job."

The park staff is answering questions from people who want to camp at the park over the holiday and letting them know the facts about the potential closure.

"We don't want to alarm people but we want them to be prepared," said Nelson, who along of about 20 full-time and part-time park employees won't be receiving a pay-check during a shutdown.

Some of the details, like questions about being able to hike, bike or swim in the park during a shutdown, may unfold as time goes on, said Nelson.

Julie Clark, who lives near the park and exercises there nearly every day, was riding her bike through Sibley on Monday. She is not happy with the thought of the park closing because of a political stalemate.

"I would just like to see it resolved," she said. The park is "such a value to people, especially in the summer."

Despite their frustration with the thought they may get kicked out of the park, the Uphoffs are people of faith.

They've already made their reservations at Sibley Park for July 4, 2012.

Get your fishing license now

NEW LONDON -- The notice from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hangs on the wall at Pete's Surplus, advising the rural New London store on state Highway 71, that they won't be able to sell fishing or hunting licenses after June 30 during a state shutdown.

The store is a popular stop for fishing bait, licenses and groceries for campers and anglers.

They've been selling quite a few fishing licenses lately to out-of-state residents, said Dillon Ruchti, who was working the register on Monday.

But if a budget agreement isn't reached by Thursday, fishing licenses will not be sold after June 30.

The computer system where the licenses are processed will be shut down and fishing licenses won't be issued on July 1.

The letter from Peter Skwira, chief of administrative services for the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife, said if a shutdown occurs expenditures would be limited to fund or support "only critical life, health and safety functions of state government."

The letter doesn't say if conservation officers will be on duty to do spot checks if anglers have a fishing license or not.

The DNR thanked the store for its work as a contractor with the state and said it recognizes "the difficulties that the potential shutdown could cause for you."

Skwira promised to provide new information about a budget agreement or a state shutdown as soon as it was available.