A new report shows that visits to the metro area’s 106 regional parks and trails rose significantly in 2017, but notes that most of the increase is due to new, more accurate attendance estimates calculated for all four seasons of the year.
The Metropolitan Council’s 2017 annual use estimate indicates that parkgoers made 58.3 million visits to the regional system in 2017, an increase of 22 percent from 2016.
The 54,000-acre network of parks and trails added three new destinations in 2017, accounting for nearly 700,000 visits.
Without those two variables — new sites coming online and updated visitor numbers — total visits would have actually declined slightly, the report said.
Raintry Salk, a research analyst in Met Council’s community development division, said that overall, the popularity of parks and trails remains steady.
“The regional park system continues to be a loved amenity in this region,” Salk said. “It’s more popular than the Mall of America.”
Ramsey and Dakota counties each completed new regional trail segments — Lake Links Regional Trail hugs the north side of White Bear Lake and then swings east, while the Minnesota River Greenway runs along the river’s south side in Burnsville, looking out over the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Dakota County Commissioner Liz Workman, who represents Burnsville, said she’s heard good things from residents about the new 3.75-mile section of trail, called the Black Dog segment.
“It’s gorgeous down there,” said Workman, who attended the trail’s ribbon-cutting event last summer. “There was no other way to get close to the river if you wanted to get near it.”
In addition, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board added Above the Falls Regional Park, on the east and west banks of the Mississippi River, between the Plymouth Avenue and Camden bridges.
Despite more than 100 park and trail locations, the top 20 destinations accounted for almost two-thirds of all visits. With more than 7 million visits, the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes parks topped the list. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory was close behind, logging 5.3 million visits. “The top five most frequently visited parks remain constant year to year,” Salk said.
Parks were far more popular than trails, accounting for 75.5 percent of visits. In 2016, 27.3 percent of visits were to regional trails.
The Met Council updated its visitor study in 2016, looking at data such as the number of people in each car and visits during the spring, winter and fall. The last update was in 2008.
Going forward, the council plans to conduct visitor studies once every five years rather than every decade as was the previous practice, Salk said.