Minn. Parks Aim to Change With the Times

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July 7, 2014 by   Comments Off on Minn. Parks Aim to Change With the Times

Minnesotans love their state parks.

According to the Star-Tribune, Minneapolis, nearly all of the 5,000 state park campsites and cabins were filled this holiday weekend, and hiking trails and picnic tables were crowded. Some 1.5 million Minnesotans are expected to visit a state park this year.

But will those park visitors continue to show up in years to come?

Officials aren’t certain, because while the number of people camping, hiking, fishing, hunting and boating has been steady in Minnesota, their numbers as a percentage of the population have been falling, mirroring a national trend.

And park visitors — the vast majority white — are getting older. Those 55 and older doubled from 15% in 2001 to 30% in 2012. And park users are aging faster than the general population.

“We’ve been serving Baby Boomers and older adults and losing Gen Xers and millennials,’’ said Pat Arndt, Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails Division outreach manager.

Young people are needed to replace older visitors, who eventually will be shuffling off to nursing homes instead of hiking trails.

But there’s another problem: Though the state population of minorities is increasing, that trend isn’t reflected at Gooseberry Falls, Itasca or other state parks. While 17% of the state population is nonwhite, only 3% of park visitors are. The nonwhite or Hispanic population grew by 54% from 2000 to 2010, to almost 900,000. Meanwhile, the white population grew just 2%.

Many minorities, including new immigrants, simply don’t have traditions involving outdoor activities, including visiting state parks.

The bottom line: Officials are trying to figure out how to get younger visitors to the parks to replace the aging ones, while also tapping the growing minority population.

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