The Minnesota DNR is proposing to hike fees for state park users, cross-country skiers and owners of ATVs, snowmobile and boats in hopes of fending off further cuts to a recreational system that has been seeing record use.
DNR officials said most of the fees haven’t been increased in more than a decade, forcing the DNR to cut costs such as shortening the camping season at several state parks, reducing winter services such as ski trail grooming, and postponing repairs at various facilities. As an example, officials said the bathroom building at Jay Cooke State Park’s Oldenburg Point was closed because it’s needs repair.
The DNR receives money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that voters approved in 2008 but those funds generally can’t be used to pay for operations and maintenance costs. The Legacy fund were meant to supplement not supplant existing funding, said Erika Rivers, director of Minnesota state parks and trails.
Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed about a $9.3 million bump in general fund revenue over the next two years and five fee increases that would generate about $6.9 million.
In hopes of making a case for the increases, which need legislative approval, Rivers pointed out Thursday that state park visitors topped 10 million in 2016 for the first time.
“More and more Minnesotans and visitors to our state are discovering the beauty and variety of our state’s parks and trails system,” Rivers said. “This is excellent news, but it does create challenges to meeting the increased maintenance demands on our system.”
The proposed fee increases include:
• A $1 increase for a daily state park vehicle permit and $5 increase for an annual pass.
• Annual registration fee increase of $5 for ATVs, $10 for snowmobiles and $1 to $15 increase for boats, depending on the size of the craft.
• A $2 increase for a daily cross-country ski pass and $5 increase for an annual one.
Along with explaining the need for the increases, Rivers noted some additions park and trail users will see this year.
• A new campground at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park and another at Whitewater State Park.
• A new state water trail in southern Minnesota. The 20-mile Shell Rock River State Water trail, which is one of the state’s 35 state water trails, begins at Fountain Lake in Freeborn County and passes through Myre-Big Island State Park on its way to the Iowa border, .
• Additions to the Mill Town State Trail include completion of two critical trail connections: a bridge across the Cannon River to Lake Byllesby Regional Park and a Hwy. 52 underpass. The DNR also acquired 6 miles of unused rail trail that eventually will be developed.