It’s the Black Friday special all Minnesotans can score without standing in any lines: free access to any state park.
For the fourth year in a row, all 75 of Minnesota’s state parks and recreation areas will be free to use on Black Friday, part of a national trend to reclaim the day after Thanksgiving and turn the focus from shopping deals into a chance to relish the outdoors and burn off those turkey dinner calories.
“I just think the ‘Opt Outside’ movement has taken hold and is an alternative to the traditional go-shopping day,” said Erika Rivers, director of Minnesota State Parks and Trails for the Department of Natural Resources. “It’s just provided people a nice opportunity and a ‘thank you’ for all the support Minnesota parks get throughout the year.”
All entrance fees will be waived Friday; a permit usually costs $7 a day, or $35 a year.
REI, which has stores in Bloomington, Roseville and Maple Grove, started the “Opt Outside” movement four years ago, closing on Black Friday to encourage people to go outdoors. Minnesota followed by becoming the first state in the U.S. to start the free park day, which has inspired more than a dozen states to follow suit.
While Rivers said it’s hard to quantify the success of “Free Park Friday,” she hears positive feedback. Each year, she said, she sees normally empty state park parking lots fill with cars.
“It’s been popular,” she said, adding that it’s become a new tradition for her family and others to go on a Black Friday hike. “We’re seeing a pretty robust love for our parks.”
Minnesota’s state parks draw about 10 million visitors each year. In fact, the number of visitors rose 26 percent from 2003 to 2017, outpacing population growth and reaching a record high of 10.3 million visitors in 2016. In 2017, Gooseberry Falls surpassed Fort Snelling as the most visited state park, with Itasca coming in third. The resurgence in interest for being outdoors is driven, Rivers said, by people’s interest in local travel and wellness. “It’s a really low-cost way to improve your health and wellness,” she said.
In a news release, state leaders said the average American consumes about 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving. A brisk walk can burn about 300 calories in one hour.
“Like sharing a meal, going for a walk can be a great way to spend quality time with family and friends,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in the statement.
Go to dnr.state.mn.us to find more about the state parks.