For the second year in a row, Minnesota’s state parks will be open to all visitors on Black Friday — an effort to get more people enjoying the outdoors instead of lining up at shopping malls.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith announced the Free Park Friday promotion Tuesday during a news conference outside the Thomas C. Savage Visitor Center at Fort Snelling State Park. She said fees at each of Minnesota’s 75 state parks will be included in the promotion — and noted that most Minnesotans live within 30 miles of at least one of the parks.
“On the day after Thanksgiving, after you are full of turkey and you have had plenty of inside time, eating and watching football, we want to remind everybody that Minnesota’s state parks are free,” she said.
Minnesota was the first state to implement a Black Friday promotion for state parks, and about a dozen other states have now followed suit, said Erika Rivers, director of Minnesota State Parks and Trails.
She said officials don’t have a specific count of how many people took advantage of last year’s Free Park Friday, in part because it is difficult to sort out the visitors who had already purchased annual passes from those who might have otherwise paid for a day pass.
But Rivers said several thousand people visited Minnesota parks during last year’s event, including hundreds of cars that streamed into Fort Snelling State Park, located near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. She said officials also don’t have an estimate of the cost to open the parks for free, but said it is relatively small, considering that more than 10 million people visit the parks each year. The number of visitors this year has increased by between 6 and 8 percent from 2015, officials said.
“I really look at it as our first present of the holiday season,” Rivers said. “All Minnesotans can go enjoy Minnesota’s state parks.”
Smith said she plans to spend Friday at Temperance River State Park, on the north shore of Lake Superior. Rivers said she’ll be at Fort Snelling.
The state parks system has a website devoted to the Free Park Friday event, featuring directions to parks and recommended hikes.
It also has information on special events on Friday, such as guided hikes at Lake Bemidji, Lake Carlos and Sibley State Park, which will be led by naturalists.