State parks visits on the upswing; DNR credits Legacy-funded outreach

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Sure, our state's got more than 10,000 lakes. But when it comes to camping on their shores, we Minnesotans seem to appreciate a friendly invitation or nudge ... or even a few pointers on how to achieve a good night's sleep in the great outdoors.

The Associated Press reports that since Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources beefed up its outreach efforts a few years ago, visits to state parks have been steadily climbing.

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that voters approved in 2008 raised the state sales tax to fund outdoors, environmental, and cultural projects across Minnesota. The AP says the Legacy Amendment has steered $215 million to the DNR, with much of that used to reach out to new visitors.

And it seems to be working. Sales of single-day vehicle permits at state parks are up 15 percent from 2008 through last year while sales of annual permits rose 21 percent, the AP says. Even with record rainfall last month, this summer's visits are strong.

The DNR manages 67 state parks and 9 recreation areas.

As for camping in those parks, focus groups helped the agency realize that not everyone knows how it's done. That's why the outreach has included new programs such as I Can Camp!, which provides parents with guidance on how to introduce their kids to the outdoors: setting up a tent, cooking over a fire, fishing – with experts available to answer the "How do I do it" questions.

The stepped-up outreach also includes virtual tours of each state park available on the DNR's website. There are also more naturalists on hand at the parks. The AP says that allows for 60 to 80 nature programs statewide on a typical summer weekend.

June's storms and floods left some of the state parks too soggy for visitors for awhile, particularly Blue Mounds and Fort Snelling. But those parks recently reopened.

The DNR tells the AP attendance bounced back this month at the parks, with more campsites filled over the Fourth of July weekend than the year before.

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