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Wisconsin Spotlight | April 30, 2020

MADISON — As the weather gets warmer, campaign season is kicking into high gear. But confusion — or worse — surrounding Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home orders is causing headaches and financial struggles for Wisconsin’s campground owners. 

While the governor’s pandemic edicts have allowed campgrounds to remain open, under strict social-distancing guidelines, some county health departments haven’t gotten the memo. 

“At this time we are running into counties not following the Governor’s order,” wrote Lori Severson, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners, in an email request for assistance to state Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere). “We were deemed Essential and have opened our gates to much needed lodging; such as traveling nurses, construction workers building hospitals, etc. Now we have several counties closing campgrounds leaving owners not knowing what to do with guests who are already in the park and where to reroute these folks.”

Campground owners are asking for clarity, for relief. So are their campers, many already in camp. Do they vacate? 

An aide to the governor in an email to Severson confirmed that campgrounds are allowed to operate. He did recommend campground owners call their local governments and “work directly with them in local communities to discuss specific needs.” 

Wisconsin Spotlight reached out to several campground owners across the state. Many said that they are open or will open, at least to limited degrees. A Dane County site did say that it was closed “in accordance with Dane County’s health order and the governor’s order.” 

Many did not want to be identified for the story. 

A southcentral Wisconsin campground operator said he opened in mid-April, but business has been tough. He said in most cases local governments have walked back their restrictions after being reminded that campgrounds are considered essential businesses. 

Another campground owner in northern Wisconsin said it’s been difficult to adapt to the new rules, including purchasing personal protective equipment for staff and communicating with guests about a long list of do’s and don’ts.  

The Evers administration’s extended lockdown is set to expire on May 26, the day after Memorial Day Weekend — a critical time for campgrounds. But the order could be extended, if Wisconsin doesn’t hit certain declining averages in COVID-19 cases. 

For the hard hit tourism industry, it’s not just a question of re-opening Wisconsin, it’s what neighboring states are doing, too. 

“When we do open, it will be a careful re-opening that is dependent on the situation in the other states,” a southern Wisconsin campground operator said. 

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