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Number of state park vehicle permits being sold increases

Spending time in nature is on the rise.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that state park permits were up in Minnesota in 2013, showing that people are getting outdoors more.

“At Maplewood State Park, we have seen about a 20 percent increase in daily vehicle permits since 2008, and about a 10 percent increase in annual vehicle permit sales since 2008,” Park Manager Don Del Greco said. “Maplewood hosted 140,000 park total visitors in 2012, and 112,000 total visitors in 2013.”

Maplewood State Park is located near Pelican Rapids.

While visitors dipped in 2013 at Maplewood (but not vehicle permits necessarily), the overall visits in Minnesota were up, according to the DNR.

Sales of year-round permits totaled 136,300 in 2013, up 2 percent from 2012 and 21 percent from 2008, when Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

The Parks and Trails Fund receives 14.25 percent of the sales tax revenue and may only be spent to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance.

“We got off to a slow start last year due to the cold, wet spring, so it was gratifying to finish 2013 ahead of 2012,” said Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division.

“We’re obviously pleased to see evidence of increasing interest in Minnesota’s 76 state park and recreation areas. This news comes at a time when national parks and many other states are reporting significant declines in their visits and overnight stays.”

Del Greco said that visitors come to Maplewood for a wide variety of reason. The park is known for its beautiful fall colors.

“Maplewood’s spectacular tree-covered hills and colorful prairies provide striking vistas of small, clear lakes nestled in deep valleys and it is in this natural setting that visitors come to enjoy nature,” he said.

“The park is located in the transition area between the eastern forests and western prairies and Maplewood envelops eight major lakes and many ponds offer water lovers places to swim, fish, boat, and simply relax.”

He said that they have families who enjoy driving the scenic route, looking for wildlife. With its extensive trail system, the park also sees plenty of horseback riders, hikers, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.

“We have many repeat visitors who return throughout the years for a wide variety of experiences,” Del Greco said.

But on the flip side, “we continue to see an increasing amount of first-time visitors who are discovering the beauty of Maplewood,” he added.

Besides camping and hiking, the DNR’s programs are becoming more and more popular as well. Participation in Legacy-funded I Can Camp! programs has increased 110 percent since the program began in 2010.

Nelson attributes the increase in the popularity of Minnesota state parks to a trend of more families “stay-cationing” to save money, programs and special events designed to attract visitors to parks during the off-peak seasons.

The DNR measures trip satisfaction, and it is now as high as it has been since they began recording it 25 years ago; 83 percent of visitors surveyed in 2012 rated their experience in the “excellent” range.

The increase over the last couple years could also have to do with new parks and opportunities. Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area opened in 2011 — which is the featured photo on this year’s year-round vehicle permit — and offers a 25-mile single-track mountain bike trail system.

“By purchasing a permit, you help maintain and improve the natural resources, facilities and education and outreach programs that make Minnesota’s state parks among the best in the nation,” Nelson said.

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“People enjoy recreating in the beauty of the outdoors, and Minnesota state parks and trails provide a variety of outreach programming over recent years to encourage new visitors to explore Minnesota’s natural wonders,” Del Greco said.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.