Funding Issue

Keep parks and trails well cared for & open to all

We encourage increasing the funding to Minnesota State Parks and Trails.

Minnesota has a projected $17.6 billion surplus on top of billions in federal aid. Meanwhile, funding for Minnesota’s State Parks and Trails has not kept up with a growing system and increased demand. Investing a small portion of this surplus into Minnesota State Parks and Trails and building that increase into the general fund base would make a big difference. It would ensure that these valuable natural places remain well cared for and open to all now and in the future.

We encourage using the $17.6 billion surplus rather than increasing state park entrance fees.

Minnesotans should have parks and trails that are accessible with amenities they can use and afford. Increasing entrance fees 80-100% in only a six-year span (as is being proposed) will hit working families, the unemployed and low-income Minnesotans the hardest. Rather than increase entrance fees again, we urge lawmakers to use the $17.6 billion surplus to increase General Fund support to state parks by $3 million annually so the DNR has time to explore tier-based fee options, partnership programs and other alternatives that keep parks affordable.

We encourage lawmakers to support truly transformative Legacy Fund investments.

The Legacy Amendment’s Parks and Trails Fund should be allocated equitably between the needs of the State, Metropolitan, and Greater Minnesota systems. Historically, these funds have been split 40%-40%-20% between these park and trail systems. We support that allocation until representatives from the three systems can reach a new consensus agreement.

Funding Issue

Fix crumbling trails, roads & bridges, outdated water systems, and more

We support funding capital improvement projects for parks and trails by using the budget surplus, bonding, and the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund

Historically, Minnesota has not invested sufficient resources to keep capital assets within parks and trails in acceptable condition. As a result, the deferred maintenance backlog continues to grow. We urge the legislature to pass a bonding bill and a Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources bill that addresses the urgent needs identified by the agency staff. These needs include:

MN State Park and Trail System | $100 million

$30.5 million | Park Buildings & Accessibility

Campground shower buildings

Replacing campground shower buildings at state parks to enhance their safety, functionality and accessibility while reducing maintenance costs.

Accessibility improvements

  • William O’Brien State Park (complete work partially funded with 2020 bonding)
    • Interpretive center
    • Savanna campground: shower building, campsites, vault toilets, camper cabins
    • Riverside group camp: campsites and vault toilets
    • Trails and trail amenities
    • Picnic shelters
    • Athletic field
    • Wayfinding and signage
    • Key parking and access routes throughout the park
  • Fort Snelling State Park
    • Ranger station: restrooms, service counter, exterior plaza, parking and self-registration station
    • Beach and day use area: parking, access routes, building access, beach and picnic area
    • Picnic Island: causeway, parking, public water access, perimeter trail, youth camp, picnic areas and shelters, restrooms buildings
    • Visitor Center: minor interior improvements
    • Confluence “Pike” Island: trail from the Visitor Center to the Mississippi River
    • Other trails: repair degraded areas that are limiting accessibility.

$16 million | Campsites, Group Camps and Day Use Areas

The MnDNR manages over 5,000 campsites at state parks, state rec areas and forest rec areas, as well as 102 group camps and 64 day-use areas. Many of these facilities are more than 50 years old and in need of major renovations to address deferred maintenance, conform to current standards and meet changing recreational needs. The MnDNR’s funding request has identified priority sites as:

  • Sibley State Park
  • Frontenac State Park
  • Itasca State Park
  • Beaver Creek Valley State Park
  • Old Mill State Park

$13 million | Water and Wastewater Systems

Because state parks are generally located outside municipal service areas, wells and onsite water and wastewater treatment systems are required. The average useful life for these amenities is 40 years. In addition, these aging systems are often designed to outmoded standards (including hazardous confined spaces), and have been expanded in a piecemeal fashion over decades. This results in significant safety, operational and maintenance challenges.

The MnDNR has identified some priority sites in need of funding as:

  • Itasca State Park
  • Myre-Big Island State Park
  • Fort Snelling State Park
  • Scenic State Park

$14 million | Park and Trail Bridges

The MnDNR owns and maintains 128 pedestrian and vehicle bridges within state parks, rec areas and scientific and natural areas (SNAs). DNR’s bridge engineers provide asset management services for DNR-owned bridges. These services include periodic inspections, data management, recommendations on routine maintenance, etc. In the past few years, DNR has experienced significant issues with a number of aging bridges.

In particular, the High Falls Bridge at Tettegouche State Park must be replaced as soon as possible due to age and corrosion of the suspension cables.

$12 million | Lake Vermilion State Park

The MnDNR has requested funds to support the continued design and construction of recreational opportunities at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Projects include:

  • Construction of the Lake Lodge Visitor Center; design of the South Vermilion Ridge Campground, including campsites with electric hook-ups and shower facilities
  • Rehabilitation of an existing fire tower, including access, parking and interpretation
  • Design of additional hiking/biking trails within the park
  • Design and construction of a renewable energy project that will offset some operating costs of the park.

$6 million | State Park Roads

The MnDNR is responsible for thousands of miles of roads that provide access within state parks, as well as thousands of associated culverts. Roads typically have an expected useful life between 15 and 25 years.

$4.8 million | State Trail Rehab*

Trails need regular maintenance to remain as vital assets that Minnesotans can rely on for our well-being and transportation. Parks & Trails Council’s extensive research has validated this recommendation for a sustainable maintenance plan for state trails. > View our State of the Trails page for more details about the current conditions and models for how often trails need maintenance and rehab.

Priorities identified by the MnDNR in the funding request are

  • Glacial Lakes State Trail
  • Paul Bunyan State Trail
  • Williard Munger State Trail

$4 million | Land Acquisition

For state parks and trails.

Metro Regional Park and Trail System | $15 million

$15 million | System Improvements

Matched with $10M in Met Council Funds. Develop, expand and update park and trail amenities owned and operated by 10 regional park agencies within the metro area.

Local and Regional Parks and Trails Across Minnesota | $4 million

$4 million | Grant Programs

Funding to provide the MnDNR with funds to administer five competitive grant programs, which were established in M.S. 85.019 and designed for local governments across the state to acquire and develop parks and trails.

  • Outdoor Recreation Grant Program helps local governments acquire, develop and/or redevelop close-to-home outdoor recreation facilities.
  • The Regional Park Grant Program helps local governments acquire shore land, natural areas and threatened habitat, and develop and rehabilitate natural resource-based outdoor recreation facilities of regional significance.
  • The Natural and Scenic Area Grant Program helps local governments and school districts acquire and protect natural and scnic areas statewide that are diminishing due to development, especially in high growth areas, shore lands, bluff tops and areas where land use changes may limit future opportunities.
  • The Local Trail Connections Grant Program provides grants to local units of government to develop and acquire trail connections to residential areas, schools, workplaces, community centers, recreation areas, trails and parks.
  • The Regional Trail Grant Program provides grant to local units of government for development and acquisition of regional trails outside of the metropolitan area.

This funding request is also supported by the nonprofit Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails.

Understanding DNR bonding requests

Report cover shows broken damThe DNR operates 7 divisions, including the Parks and Trails Division. DNR bonding requests are made for the entire agency and don’t include publicly accessible priority lists of specific projects. P&TC has been encouraging the DNR to share their internal priority lists much like other state agencies do as part of their biennial bonding requests. While we appreciate the DNR’s recently published 10-year Capital Asset Needs report, the agency’s biennial bonding requests do not go into the level of specificity P&TC believes would help lawmakers and the public understand specific state parks and trails related priorities that would be addressed if the DNR received the requested appropriation. For example, rather than publishing a specific list of park, trail, bridge or other infrastructure projects, the DNR’s agency-wide requests are lumped under broad and generic headings like: buildings; bridges; and roads and trails; with no clarity as to how the money will be spent for those particular categories of investments.

Policy Issue

Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) do not belong in state parks

We oppose all efforts to introduce or expand the use of motorized, off-highway vehicles in state parks and alongside state trails.

Over the past decade, a small group of legislators has attempted to change the current state law in such a way as to allow off-highway vehicles, including ATVs, to be used for recreation within state parks. P&TC has led the charge in defending state parks against these efforts, and we will continue this defense in 2023.

Learn more about this issue on our detailed OHVs Do Not Belong in State Parks Page

OHV issue page

Policy Issue

Welcome diversity, equity and inclusion

We encourage legislative efforts to develop programs that welcome more Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color communities into parks and trails.

Parks and trails offer vital benefits to the people who use them and the communities where they are located. These benefits should be equitably available to everyone regardless of race or ethnicity. However, according to the most recent 2019 State Trail and 2017 MN State Parks visitor surveys, people of color are underrepresented among state park and trail visitors. We are working with lawmakers to explore options for funding new programs that will help to address this disparity.

Funding Issue

Community-driven park and trail projects

We support our Friends Group Partners in advocating to build trails in their communities.

Local volunteer groups often play a critical role in the development of state and regional trails. At Parks & Trails Council, we support these volunteers by providing technical assistance to help navigate the legislative process.

This year we are heading into the session supporting groups whose efforts to secure bonding for projects in 2022 didn’t succeed because the Legislature failed to pass a bonding bill. Those projects include: