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Continued: State parks seek to change with the times

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Last update: July 5, 2014 - 6:54 PM

The agency also has boosted advertising and improved its website, offering virtual tours of parks so people can see before they go. “We’re now on Facebook and Twitter,’’ Arndt said.

Ethnicity aside, all families are busy with organized sports and other activities, Arndt said. “We’re finding the barriers to outdoor recreation are pretty similar across ethnic lines,’’ she said. “We know when people get out and have that experience camping or fishing, they love it and want to do more of it. We’re trying to make it easier for them.’’

Which means changes.

“We have a wonderful park system, but we need to look at what the next generation is telling us they want, and adapt,’’ Arndt said.

A 2012 survey of park users showed 50 percent of campers would like Internet access at parks. Six parks or recreation areas now have Wi-Fi: Red River, Lake Bronson, Itasca, Lake Bemidji, St. Croix and William O’Brien. And more likely will be added. And 60 percent of park visitors would like cellphone coverage at campgrounds and near visitor centers.

More hiking, no hunting

That same survey sheds light on what park users do, and what they want or don’t want in the future.

Their top pick: adding more hiking opportunities. They’d also like more self-guided learning opportunities, more programs for children, more accommodations for disabled people.

Visitors don’t favor expanding development in parks, and they’d like more of those popular rustic camper cabins that have sprouted in recent years. About 85 have been built, including five that just opened at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park.

Some things park users definitely don’t want: more hunting in state parks, and ATVs. Forty percent oppose more hunting, while just 9 percent support the idea. And 60 percent oppose more ATVs in state parks; 12 percent support the idea.

“The next generation wants more secluded campsites,’’ Arndt said. So the latest camper cabins were built away from parking lots.

What do people do at state parks?

The most popular activity (69 percent) is hiking and walking; 33 percent observe or photograph nature; 22 percent picnic; 21 percent bird watch; 19 percent swim; 14 percent fish, bike or camp.

And of those campers this weekend, about 44 percent likely slept in a tent, 34 percent in an RV and 13 percent in a pop-up trailer.

The trend: More people are camping in fancier RVs, fewer in pop-up trailers or tents.

One thing is clear: When people go to a state park, they have a good time.

“Satisfaction is at an all-time high,’’ Arndt said.

And she’s hoping more Minnesotans discover the good times.

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