Reporting John Lauritsen
AFTON, Minn. (WCCO) — As the state works to slowly but surely get back to business after a three-week government shutdown, state parks — and Canterbury Park — are on their way to pre-shutdown operations.
Canterbury Park fought hard to stay open during the government shutdown. It wasn’t allowed to, but Thursday, the gaming tables were up and running with horse racing starting in the evening.
Canterbury officials say the card-room wasn’t quite as busy as they had hoped on Thursday, but they attribute that to the effects of the shutdown and they expect that to change.
Canterbury makes about $1 million a week during the summer months, and CEO Randy Sampson said the three weeks worth of lost revenue has had a significant impact on employees, horsemen and racing fans.
“It’s been beyond frustrating,” he said. “We had to layoff 1,000 people and had horses essentially stranded on the back-side. It’s had a negative impact on a lot of people, and we are certainly glad to be back open now.”
Horses races kicked off at 7 p.m. Thursday. By 10 p.m., the crowd in the stands grew to an estimated 6,500 fans, who enjoyed free admission on the first day back after the shutdown.
Kaitlin Koestler of Jordan was one of the laid off employees returning to work. She’s spending the summer selling hot dogs at the park concession building, and says the shutdown impacted her future.
“It was hard because I am a teenager going to college in the fall, have to pay for gas and college and I put my paychecks in savings account,” said Koestler.
Jockey Lori Keith says the shutdown put her livelihood at stake.
“I am relieved, I don’t have to pack up my tack and go anywhere. In our industry, a lot of us live paycheck to paycheck, it’s hard when you don’t have that,” said Keith.
Canterbury Park management is now trying to add extra race days in August and September to make up for lost revenue. The staff also says estimated 20-25 horse trainers had packed up their horses and went off to race in other states during the shutdown, but the majority have now returned.
Afton State Park Reopens
Meanwhile, at Afton State Park, reopening isn’t quite as easy as unlocking the gate.
“Things look like they haven’t been dealt with for three weeks,” said Kris Backlund, assistant manager of the park.
But make no mistake, Backlund felt pretty fortunate when she walked into Afton State Park Thrusday morning, and found it in the shape it’s in, especially since a group of vandals ransacked Afton during the three weeks she was gone.
“These shakes interior of the cabin porch, they pulled a bunch of those off,” she said.
They also burned log benches, broke windows and wrote profanity on the walls of one of the cabins with a permanent marker. And that’s not all — they vandalized and burglarized the park’s main office.
“Here at the office, they ransacked and tore up computer equipment, so networks are down,” she said.
That means Internet is out for a while. Twelve people were arrested for what they did to Afton State Park. But for Backlund and the DNR, Thursday was about looking ahead.
It will take a couple of days to get the cabins cleaned up, and for camping to again be an option. But day-use is available, making Afton one of about 20 partially open state parks, ready to do, at least some, business.
“You really want to be at work, to serve the public,” Backlund said. “And you are frustrated when you can’t do that and you are happy to be back.”
Fourteen state parks are fully open and 36 are still closed. The clean-up process is moving much faster than they thought and by the weekend, camping at most state parks will be available.
There are still some trees down at Afton, but computer and Internet issues should be resolved by next week.
For a complete list of the parks that are open or closed, click here.