Minnesota parks see decline in visitors in 2013

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, September 4, 2013

MONTICELLO — Minnesota’s state parks saw an overall decline in visitors this year, thanks to chilly, rainy weather that kept many people away at the start of the season.

Sales of vehicle permits are a key measure in determining how many people use state parks. For a seven-month period ending July 31, sales of daily and 12-month state park permits were down 7 percent when compared with the same period last year.

The drop also means less revenue for the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR said permit revenues were $2.56 million through July compared with about $2.72 million at the same time last year. DNR officials say cooler, rainy spring weather is partly the reason.

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However, a stretch of dry weather caused a shift in July. Permit sales for the month of July alone jumped by about 8 percent when compared with July 2012. Still, that wasn’t enough to offset the overall decline.

“There was kind of a pent-up demand,” said Pat Arndt, a DNR spokeswoman.

Managers at two state parks in central Minnesota, Lake Maria and Charles Lindbergh, said they’ve seen more permit sales in recent weeks.

George and Martha Copsey of St. Cloud were among those hiking Monday at Lake Maria State Park near Monticello. The couple used the park’s terrain to condition for two hiking trips to the Grand Canyon, George Copsey said.

“We love the state parks,” he said, adding that the $25 cost for an annual vehicle permit “is probably, to me, one of the better deals around.”

Data on overnight camping stays, also used to measure state park usage, wasn’t available from the DNR last week.

Paula Davis, who spent part of her Labor Day holiday at Lake Maria State Park, said she visited Tettegouche, Jay Cooke and Gooseberry Falls state parks in June, and was surprised to see so few visitors.

“We were shocked at how few people were along the trails,” said Davis, of Elk River.