MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The public and legislators are largely supportive of the slightly higher fees that visitors to Minnesota’s state parks and trails would pay this summer under Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget, top officials said Friday.
Dayton’s budget would raise the daily per-vehicle entrance fee by $1, from $5 to $6, and the 12-month cost by $5, from $25 to $30. The increases would take effect July 1, if approved.
Tom Landwehr, the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, used the first day of spring to raise the curtain on the tourism season. He told reporters during a teleconference that the extra money would allow the parks and trails system to maintain the quality of services that visitors expect.
Parks and Trails chief Erika Rivers called it a “very modest” increase that would raise about $2.3 million over two years. She said that money, combined with an additional $3.6 million per year in Dayton’s budget from the state’s general fund, would be just enough to maintain park services and facilities at their existing levels. She said surveys found strong visitor support for the idea. And she said the reception from lawmakers this session has been positive, with little to no opposition.
There will be an estimated 8 million visitors to Minnesota’s state parks this year, including 1.3 million who will be coming from other states and countries, Landwehr said. DNR research shows that each visitor spends about $25 per day outside of the parks for expenses such as gas and food, he said.
The DNR plans ribbon-cutting ceremonies this summer at a new visitor center and highway rest stop in Tettegouche State Park, on the north shore of Lake Superior, and the Brown’s Creek State Trail, near Stillwater, Rivers said. The agency will also break ground in May on the campground at the new Lake Vermilion State Park in hopes of allowing overnight stays there in the fall of 2016, she said.
And this fall, the DNR plans to introduce bison to Minneopa State Park, near Mankato. The animals will come from a herd at Blue Mounds State Park, near Luverne. The DNR wanted to do it last year, but Rivers said the need to establish a water source and build secure fencing at Minneopa led officials to postpone splitting the herd until this fall.
Rivers said in the near term, many state parks will be demonstrating maple syrup making this weekend now that the sap is flowing. Registration opened Friday for the park system’s popular “I Can!” classes on camping, paddling, climbing and mountain biking. And there are still plenty of plenty of campsites that can be reserved for Memorial Day weekend, she said. Some parks are now offering yurts and paddleboard rentals.
“We really encourage people to get outside their comfort zone a little bit and look at some of these new opportunities,” Landwehr said. “They really are going to be quite fun and really give you another way to just experience and enjoy Minnesota’s great outdoors.”
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