i started in april at lake maria in the middle of minnesota with snow on the ground and an ambitious summer planned. i finished up my visits to 72 minnesota state parks and recreation areas in october, stopping at rice lake on the way to the southern part of the state.
so many people get caught up in their pockets of home, work, favorite destinations. so many people talk about visiting other countries regularly, heading to a coast every spring break, living the winter months in the southwest US.
but you don’t hear a lot about people visiting different areas of minnesota, about how varied and interesting our own state is. i traveled across most of the counties during my summer travels, sat in the four biomes the state boasts (pretty good for a non-mountainous state), found the place where three watersheds diverge, and drove through the highest points in the state and the lowest. i watched fireflies blink from the prairie in june in the southwest and saw the milky way spread across my vision during a moonless, clear night in august in the northeast. from lake bronson to beaver creek; blue mounds to grand portage; wow does minnesota have a lot to offer.
minnesota has 76 state parks and recreation areas in all parts of the state, providing outdoor activities for all residents. and we do like our parks: every year, more and more minnesotans use the parks. unfortunately, the state congress has been underfunding the parks system. like education, the parks system used to get a large chunk of its money from the state’s general fund and the rest from fees, licenses, etc. now, only a fifth of its budget comes from the general fund. other funding at this point includes the legacy amendment, lottery money, licenses, and fees. at the same time, the parks want to increase its system. people want more groomed trails and acres in their parks and more people use them, but even still, funding is cut.
this means that fees continue to increase and the DNR reduces funding to more of the smaller parks, especially in rural minnesota. last winter, cross-country ski trails at 20 parks went ungroomed. while volunteers are readily welcomed, to do so means that liability insurance needs to be increased.
cuts will start to be made, with 34 parks on the chopping block (including grand portage, the the one at the very tip of the arrowhead AND the final destination in the most beautiful part of the state, in my opinion). this means trails go ungroomed, so much so that they may no longer be trails. campgrounds may be closed for part or all of the season. those 34 parks, of course, are rural parks in sparsely populated areas with fewer regular visitors.
these, of course, are the parks most vital to seeing the state and encouraging residents to get outside.
while i will happily pay more for camping and for my annual permit, not everyone can afford to or is able to do so. and i would encourage all mn legislators to step up and upkeep the parks system that we should be so proud of, one that is available to ALL minnesotans.
but what i really want to encourage is all minnesotans, especially those in the metro, to visit more of the lesser-known parks. head up to grand portage and judge cr magney – even stop at grand portage national monument and sit at the edge of north lake superior, where the hills are tall and tower above the low-level lake and the milky way is visible as soon as you look up at the night sky.
find the restored prairies and bison herd at blue mounds, where you’re so close to south dakota that the wind whispers across the tall grass, telling you to go west.
step onto the swinging bridge over beaver creek, where the water runs clear over polished stones with watercress green in the current.
follow the mississippi river from its source at itasca, the crown jewel of the state parks system, through lake bemidji, schoolcraft, savanna portage, crow wing, lindbergh, lake maria, fort snelling, frontenac, john latsch, great river bluffs.
learn about the rise and fall of late 19th-century towns as the railroad chose to bypass both crow wing and forestville.
step onto the white sand beaches of zippel bay, and listen to the waves of lake of the woods breaking on the shore at night a half mile away in the campground because it’s so quiet.
learn about this great state we live in; the parks are so much more than recreation. you learn about the history, wildlife, ecology, geology, and environment that make minnesota what it is.
there is so much to see in this state we call home, and the parks are the best way to learn what it has to offer. get out there and explore them.