Is Minnesota trying to chase visitors away?

Many condemn the dysfunction that characterizes our representative institutions today, with the U.S. Congress leading the list — so to speak — at 9 to 13 percent approval ratings, some of the lowest numbers ever recorded.

For those who enjoy camping in one of Minnesota’s 66 state parks, the dysfunction of our state government hit home last summer when all state parks were shut down for most of July due to a pissing match over the state budget. We had to cancel a planned trip to Itasca State Park, which would have been our third or fourth trip with the new trailer.

If anyone in St. Paul understands or cares about the importance of tourism to Minnesota’s economy, it surely wasn’t evident in this ludicrous episode. According to the state’s own figures, in 2010 travel and tourism generated $11.3 billion in sales in Minnesota and supported 235,000 jobs. Trivial things, I guess, when you’re more concerned about toeing the caucus line than representing the interests of the people who elected you.

So I was encouraged by the Department of Natural Resources announcement in late 2011 that it was shutting down the state park reservation system for a couple of months in order to give the website a complete overhaul. The system was pretty lame compared to that of states like South Dakota (in an upcoming post I’ll compare the tourism efforts of a number of states I’m familiar with). The revamped website was scheduled to go live March 1, according to DNR news releases and e-newsletters.

And now this: the website isn’t working, and will be down “indefinitely.”

The system was pretested, but the vendor planned for 4,500 visits a day. We received several thousand visits within the first hour. The vendor is now changing and testing the system to fix any capacity issues.

And reservations can’t be made by phone, either, since the same system is used.

Seriously? The DNR announces broadly that the website will be back up on a specific date, at a specific time, and no one thought about a more robust stress test for the website? This is tough to understand, especially when the DNR’s own stats show that some 90,000 reservations are made each year and that as recently as 2008 nearly 980,000 people camped in Minnesota state parks.

The stakes are huge. The camping season will likely begin in earnest in early April, thanks to a mild winter, and the state’s economy needs every bit of help it can get.

So the clock is ticking. Does anyone in government care what time it is anymore?

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