Our Values & History

Our mission is to acquire, protect and enhance critical land for the public's use and benefit.

Our Vision

We envision an interconnected system of parks, trails, waterways, natural areas and open spaces that provide all Minnesotans with outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities and that preserve the natural diversity of our state.

We value and promote

  • Sustainable, long-term statewide land stewardship and conservation
  • Outdoor recreation for its educational, health and community benefits
  • Openness, inclusiveness, collaboration and volunteerism
  • Service as an independent, honest and forthright voice for parks and trails
  • Decisions informed by the best available science and data

Founded in 1954

Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota was established in 1954 as one of the first of its kind in the nation—a statewide citizen advisory board for state parks. It all began, appropriately enough at Itasca, Minnesota’s first state park, where the state’s top parks advocates gathered to discuss the future of Minnesota state parks. In attendance were Minnesota State Parks director U.W. Hella and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Clarence R. Magney.

Judge Magney (for whom Judge C.R. Magney State Park is named), served as the first chair of P&TC, then called the Minnesota Council of State Parks. At that time, membership was limited to 16 active members. In later years the membership limit was raised to 50, and eventually membership was opened to all people who wanted to assist this work through their membership support. Today that’s well over 3,000 people.

Today, we continue the important work of preserving land and creating opportunities for everyone to enjoy Minnesota’s outstanding natural heritage. With your help, we can continue to ensure these same opportunities are around for future generations!

Writings on P&TC's history

About Judge C.R. Magney – A story of dedication

 by Samuel H. Morgan

60 Years of Safeguarding Minnesota’s Natural Heritage

 by former Sen. Dave Durenberger

Quest for Excellence

 by U.W. Hella, former director of state parks


Reuel Harmon Award

An annual recognition
of exemplary service and outstanding achievements
on behalf of Minnesota’s parks and trails.

Minnesota State Parks and Trails

75 State Parks and Recreation Areas

25 State Trails

1,270 Miles of State Trails

8 State Waysides

Timeline of Important Events

Itasca headwaters


Minnesota’s 1st State Park Created

Itasca State Park is created, earning Minnesota the distinction of having the second-oldest state park in the nation. It was created by a margin of one vote. Ironically, the part of the park that makes it so iconic today–the headwaters–was not included in the original boundaries; this land was add in 1901.


Staff Begin Managing Parks

The local volunteer groups that had managed Minnesota’s 10 state parks are replaced with paid state workers from the Department of Conservation. By 1935, the parks become further professionalized with the creation of the Division of State Parks.

Civilian Conservation Corps Logo


Civilian Conservation Corps

President Franklin Roosevelt persuades Congress to establish the Civilian
Conservation Corps, which undertook massive projects to enhance state parks.

Doodles of Nature


Here come the naturalists!

State Parks begin to incorporate “enjoyable education” into the park experience. Then Parks Director writes, “this type of recreation is a departure from the generally accepted and prevailing practices of emphasizing the purely amusement types.”


Park Permit Created

The era of free entry ends as the newly passed State Park Permit Act requires a permit on any vehicle entering the parks, then costing $1/year.


P&TCM Born

Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota is established as a statewide citizen’s advisory committee.

This occurs at the urging of state park director U.W. Hella during a meeting of Itasca State Park Association. At this time P&TC is called the Minnesota Council of State Parks. Key decision made for P&TC to be an independent, non-government entity. This is the first entity of its kind in the nation.


Updated Study on Parks

P&TCM successfully advocates for an updated State Parks and Recreation Study. The results of the study recommends establishing 35 new state parks, a boating rivers system, and a possible national park. While not all recommendations were immediately acted upon, it played a pivotal role in convincing lawmakers to take action to expand the system.

Banning State Park Wolf Creek Falls


Nine New State Parks Created

P&TCM organizes statewide meeting, chaired by Al Marshall that crafts an omnibus bill for nine new state parks. All nine are passed by the 1963 Legislature:

  • Banning
  • Glacial Lakes
  • Lake Louise
  • Maplewood
  • Great River Bluffs (originally named O. L. Kipp)
  • Rice Lake
  • Sakatah Lake
  • Soudan Underground Mine (now combined with Lake Vermilion)
  • Upper Sioux Agency

Plus, re-authorized these state parks that never got off the ground and established even though they were authorized previously:

  • Forestville (Mystery Cave added later)
  • Lake Maria
  • Traverse de Sioux (later transferred to the Minnesota Historical Society)


Hello Trails!

Minnesota Legislature authorizes the first state trail: Casey Jones State Trail.


Outdoor Recreation Act

This act mandates each park have a management plan and that they be open for public review.

Bicyclists riding at underpass


Landmark Rails-to-Trails Case

Parks & Trails Council works with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to argue a court case that leads to a landmark victory for rails to trails. The case involved ten miles of abandoned railroad in Washington County. The landowners abutting this corridor argued that the land should revert to their ownership since it was no longer used for the railroad. In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that the land was originally obtained for public transportation and that a trail continues that purpose, albeit for a different kind of transportation: bicycle, pedestrian, rollerblades, skis and horses.

With that ruling the Gateway State Trail was established on the abandoned railroad.

Grand Portage Pigeon Falls


Innovative Partnership to Create Grand Portage State Park

In 1988, after a year-long fundraising campaign, Parks & Trails Council acquired the land for what would become Grand Portage State Park. This land, which holds the state’s tallest waterfall, had been privately owned within the Grand Portage Indian Reservation. Through an innovative partnership between the state and the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa Indians the park was created.

Visit our Grand Portage Project Tour to learn more


Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund

ENRTF logoMinnesota voters approve the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Lottery money goes to helping parks and trails and other environment projects.

Legacy Amendment Sign at Glendlough State Park Trail


Legacy Amendment

Minnesota voters approve the Legacy Amendment which increased sales tax by 0.375% until 2035 for water, outdoor heritage, arts, and parks and trails. The related plan has a goal of establishing 5 new state parks and connecting 10 state parks to state trails by 2035 among other goals.

Autumn at La Salle Lake SRA


Newest Addition to State Parks System

La Salle Lake State Rec Area added as the newest park unit. It’s the 2nd since Legacy passed–Lake Vermilion was added in 2010.


Record Numbers

Minnesota State Parks experience record attendance!

Be part of the legacy…donate to Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota today!

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