MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The malls and shopping centers weren’t the only places bringing in big crowds on Black Friday.

Many skipped the shopping rush, opting to spend the day in nature instead. They took advantage of free admittance in Minnesota’s state parks.

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“The best deal is free admission to the state parks today,” Jeff Evans of St. Paul said.

Evans was among the thousands visiting one of the states’ 75 parks and recreation centers. He took his new puppy, Gilly, on a walk in Fort Snelling State Park and saw a steady flow of traffic into its parking lots.

“Where would you rather be? At a shopping center or out in the woods? I saw three deer coming in, a flock of turkeys,” Evans said.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources started Free Park Friday after last year’s Thanksgiving to encourage Minnesotans to get outdoors with friends and family.

“We want people to really get some sense of appreciation for state parks. Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks for what we got and when you look at this state park system and wonderful heritage of being outdoors it’s a great way to capitalize on that,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said.

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For Deirdre Opps family, a walk through Fort Snelling Park is now a post-Thanksgiving tradition.

“After a day of sitting and eating yesterday, it’s really nice to get moving and stretch our legs,” Deirdre Opps of St. Paul said.

Instead of searching for door buster deals in the mall, her kids are finding that nature also has something to offer.

“It’s still beautiful weather, we want to enjoy outside and not be in the mall where it’s crazy,” Opps said.

“Maybe the day after Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be about shopping. It can be about other things, as well, and getting outdoors is one of those,” Landwehr said.

The parks normally cost $5 per vehicle for a one-day permit.

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After Minnesota started this last year, 11 other states started following suit, offering free admittance on the Friday after Thanksgiving.