The wettest year on record in Minnesota hasn’t put much of a damper on trips to state parks.
The state Department of Natural Resources said the 75 state parks remain as popular as ever this year, with the number of visitors actually increasing from this time last year.
Daily vehicle permit sales were up 11 percent through June compared with 2013, while annual permit sales were up 5 percent. May campsite occupancy was up 20 percent from May 2013. And although occupancy was down 7 percent in June, it spiked back up over the July 4th holiday weekend, with nearly all of the 5,000 state park campsites and cabins filled up — more than at the same time last year.
“In Minnesota, we have three months of summer and people have their reservations [booked in advance],” said Patricia Arndt, outreach manager for the department’s Parks and Trails Division. “People are pretty determined to get outdoors.”
It’s part of a larger upward trend in state park use since 2008, when the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment was passed. The amendment infused millions of dollars into improving parks and trails, adding new events and new programs like the “I can” program, boosting advertising and improving the department’s website.
Recently, the department launched a park finder (online at www.dnr.state.mn.us/parkfinder) that offers virtual tours and park information so people can get to know the state’s 75 parks online before they go. The department is also on Facebook and Twitter, sharing photos of sites. And hikers or campers can share those photos on Instagram or Facebook, as six parks now have Wi-Fi.
“That was a little controversial when we did it because people were saying ‘you go outdoors in nature to unplug,’ ” Arndt said. “But when people see the beautiful places, they really want to go see it. We’re really trying to think how the state parks will be relevant to the next generations.”
This summer, the department has added more naturalists and events. And it’s looking to add yurts — round huts that people may opt for instead of sleeping on the ground in a camping tent.
“It’s just been an all-out effort,” Arndt said, adding that more than a third of Minnesotans visit at least one of the state’s parks each year. “Our state parks are some of the most beautiful parts of the state.”
And it’s not just state parks that are keeping busy.
A National Park Service report released this past week showed that 658,000 people visited Minnesota’s national parks last year — up from 600,000 the year before. That translated to $38 million in spending, supporting 550 jobs in Minnesota, according to the Park Service.
Minnesota’s national parks include Voyageurs National Park, Grand Portage National Monument, St. Croix National Scenic River, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and Pipestone National Monument.
“The national parks of Minnesota attract hundreds of thousands of visitors a year from across the country and around the world,” the Midwest region’s acting director, Patricia Trapp, said. “This reality makes parks tourism an important factor in Minnesota’s economy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.