Lisa Brainard: Big fall changes in addition to blazing leaf colors

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Lisa Brainard
Journey vs Destination

I don’t really need to say it. I know that. But, what the heck, it bears repeating: Fall is unofficially here now that a new year of school has begun.

Change is in the air, in the case of weather, events, regulations and more. Let’s take a look at a few of the changes to state parks.

Campground changes

After the Labor Day weekend, Whitewater State Park north of St. Charles closed its Upper and Lower Cedar campgrounds for a building construction and road reconfiguration project. The campgrounds, which contain 75 of Whitewater’s 126 campsites, will remain closed through 2020.

However, the Minneiska Campground will remain open. Cart-in campsites will remain open, and the group sites and camper cabins in Minneiska will also remain open.

To offset some of the lost capacity, Carley State Park, located south of Plainview, will remain open for camping through Oct. 20. The park is located 15 minutes from Whitewater. Carley State Park’s 20 campsites are drive-in accessible with vault toilets and water, but do not have showers or flush toilets.

Carley is a lovely, smaller park I haven’t visited in quite some time. I really should get back there. For park information, go to https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html?id=spk00130#homepage.

The improvements to Whitewater State Park include a new restroom and shower building, as well as road construction. Whitewater State Park’s website is https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html?id=spk00280#homepage.

To reach Whitewater State Park, call 507-312-2300. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. After Oct. 20, the hours will be reduced until April.

Remember that Whitewater has many fall activities occurring during this, its centennial anniversary year. Lucky for us, it’s an easy day trip. From my home base in Preston it’s almost straight north – at least as the crow flies – and around a 40-minute drive.

Iowa fee changes

Charging a fee for out-of-state vehicles has started a trial run in two Iowa state parks. There’s Lake Manawa State Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It’s across the Missouri River from and adjacent to the large metropolitan area of Omaha, Neb. The other, Waubonsie State Park, is in extreme southwestern Iowa. It’s fewer than 15 miles east of Nebraska City, Neb., (population about 7,300). After checking a few routes on Google Maps, it appears the nearest state park (and not state historic site) in either of the two states is roughly 50 miles away from Waubonsie. So, I suppose it definitely gets nonresident visitors.

As of Aug. 15, a vehicle entrance permit started being required on out-of-state vehicles at Lake Manawa and Waubonsie state parks. Without going into all the regulations and exemptions, here are the basics:

• A $40 annual permit provides unlimited visits to both parks for one year from the month of purchase. A second vehicle annual permit is also available for $15.

• Annual permits must be adhered to the inside windshield of the vehicle in the lower-left corner on the driver’s side by its own adhesive.

• A $5 daily permit is available at self-registration kiosks located through both parks and at park offices when open. Daily vehicle permits are valid for the date of issue.

• Daily permits must be displayed on the dash of the vehicle on the driver’s side where it can be seen.

• Motorcycles are included in the entrance permit requirement. Drivers may keep the permit on themselves and produce the permit when requested.

• There are self-registration kiosks in some locations.

It will be interesting to see how this all works. As a former Iowa resident, I cried about Minnesota state park user fees when I moved here. And Wisconsin? Well, its state parks have a two-tier system with user fees charged to all… but the user fees are higher for nonresidents.

I’ve come around to see user fees as a way for actual park users to pay a portion for that use in addition to state tax funding allocations. And I guess socking it to nonresidents is a way to do that, isn’t that right, Wisconsin and trial-program Iowa?

But I’ll also note many times hearing Wisconsin residents who skipped paying their own fees at Wyalusing State Park south of Prairie du Chien, Wis., to head across the Mississippi River to free Pikes Peak State Park at McGregor, Iowa.

Yeah, I think Iowa’s out-of-state vehicle fees for state parks will almost assuredly be coming down the pike in some form statewide in the future. And – unthinkable just a few years ago – I’ll happily get one to visit and camp at my favorite northeast Iowa state parks.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this Journey vs. Destination column weekly for over 15 years.