Friday, March 20, 2015

Governor’s budget proposal would help maintain vitality of state parks and bolster local economies

More than 8 million people visit Minnesota state parks each year with nearly 1.3 million of them traveling from other states or countries. This year, Gov. Mark Dayton has recommended a much-needed boost in funding for Minnesota state parks and recreation areas to ensure that they remain well-maintained attractions.

The economic benefits to Greater Minnesota communities that host state parks can be significant. In 2012, visitors to Minnesota state parks spent $231 million annually on their trips, supporting thousands of local jobs across Minnesota.

The additional funding proposed by the governor would allow state parks to continue operating at present service levels, providing for 154,000 hours of customer service and keeping many parks open into Minnesota's beautiful fall season.

"Parks and trails give people a reason to travel. They are a cornerstone of Minnesota's $13 billion tourism industry," said Erika Rivers, director of the DNR's Parks and Trails Division. "Local spending by park visitors on gas, food, lodging and other items creates major benefits for Greater Minnesota communities."

The return to the economy from a state park visitor is roughly $25 per day. Each year, the magnifier effect of this spending generates an estimated $372 million in total business sales, according to DNR research.

Visitor interest in Minnesota's state parks and trails has continued to grow. Year-end numbers from 2014 show that permit sales are up 24 percent and overnight stays are up 11 percent from 2008. In 2008, Minnesota citizens approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which has helped fund state park improvements and outreach efforts. These parks and trails investments have helped foster tourism and bolster local economies, according to Rivers.

"We've expanded the park system considerably in recent years with the acquisition of land for Lake Vermilion – Soudan Underground Mine State Park and La Salle Lake State Recreation Area, and the addition of a 25-mile mountain bike trails system at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area," Rivers said. "The additional funding the Governor is proposing will offset the cost of operating and maintaining a growing system for a growing number of customers."

Minnesota state parks popular attractions 
Minnesota's state parks and trails are some of the most popular outdoor attractions in the state, drawing millions of visitors each year. Gov. Dayton's proposed investment in the state parks system will help ensure they remain able to serve growing demand.

  • 8,881,746 visitors – In 2014, Minnesota's state parks hosted nearly 9 million visitors.
  • 66 state parks – Minnesota is home to 66 state parks and 9 recreation areas, 8 state waysides, 590 paved miles of state trails, and 62 state forest campgrounds and day-use areas.
  • 72 percent – Repeated DNR surveys suggest that more than two-thirds of Minnesotans who visit a state park make a return visit (2001: 74 percent, 2007: 67 percent, 2012: 72 percent).

More on the Governor's State Parks Budget Proposal 
Dayton's proposal would increase the state park operations budget by $4.6 million in fiscal year 2016 (ending June 30, 2016) and $4.9 million for fiscal year 2017. These increases would be added to the annual state parks and trails operations budget of $34.6 million.

The proposed funding increase would come partly from a general fund increase and partly from a modest increase in daily and year-round vehicle permit fees. Under the Governor's proposal, annual passes would increase to $30 from $25, and one-day permit fees would increase to $6 from $5. Vehicle permit fees have not increased since 2003. 

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