Regional Parks Facts

Regional parks enhance quality of life for residents

The seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area boasts a system of regional parks and trails that are nationally renowned for their beauty, size, and variety of features. The parks range from urban lake environments and suburban nature centers to a working farm and large tracts of rural open space.

The regional parks system provides a wealth of opportunities for recreation, exercise, large gatherings, and solitude. Preserving parkland and open space protects valuable natural resources and wildlife habitat, and makes communities more attractive and livable.

photo of two people walking in a park

Regional parks system at a glance

  • 54 regional parks and park reserves
  • 8 special recreation features (for example, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, and Gale Woods Farm)
  • Nearly 55,000 acres open for public use
  • Regional trails totaling more than 350 miles
  • 58.3 million visits in 2017—millions more than the Mall of America

Local agencies operate, maintain parks 

The regional parks system began with pioneering state legislation in 1974, which put the Metropolitan Council in charge of overseeing acquisition and development of regional parks. The parks are operated by 10 partnering cities, counties, and special districts.

Several large parks have free admission for entrance by vehicle while others require daily or annual passes. All parks have free admission for those who walk or ride their bicycle to enter. 

The Council and the 10 partner agencies work together to develop regional parks policies that protect the region’s water quality, promote best management practices, and help integrate the parks with housing, transportation, and other regional policies. 

Expanding regional park and trail opportunities 

More than three million people lived in the seven-county Twin Cities area as of April 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Council forecasts that by 2040 about 3.63 million people will live in the region. The Council's new 2040 Regional Parks Policy Plan calls for:

  • Expanding the parks system to conserve, maintain, and connect natural resources identified in the parks plan as high quality or having regional importance.
  • Providing a comprehensive regional park and trail system that preserves high quality resources, increases climate resiliency, fosters healthy outcomes, connects communities, and enhances quality of life.
  • Promoting expanded multimodal access to regional parks, trails, and the transit network.
  • Strengthening equitable usage of regional parks and trails by all our region’s residents, across age, race, ethnicity, income, national origin, and ability.

In the regional parks plan, the Council has committed to several strategies to increase equitable use of the regional parks system. Examples include funding an ambassador program to increase awareness of, and visits to, the regional parks for underserved populations; and creating a competitive grant program to help fund capital projects that will strengthen equitable use.

By 2040, the regional parks system is planned to expand to nearly 70,000 acres and 1,100 miles of trails. New regional parks are planned in Anoka, Carver, Hennepin, Scott, and Washington counties. New regional trail corridors will link regional parks throughout the metro area.

Funding the regional parks and trails system 

The Council allocates state and regional funds for ongoing acquisition and development of the regional parks system. Between 1974 and 2016, the Council authorized a total of more than $694 million in grant funds for those purposes. Funding for the grants comes from state bonds, regional bonds issued by the Council, monies from the Minnesota Environmental Trust Fund (recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources), Parks and Trails Legacy Fund monies, and interest earnings. Parks and Trails Legacy Fund monies also support programming and marketing of regional parks and trails.

The Council annually allocates state funds to cover a small share of the cost of parks operation and maintenance. Between 1974 and 2016, the Council distributed more than $171.5 million of state funds to the 10 partner agencies to finance a small share of the operations and maintenance of the regional parks system. 

Regional parks map is available

Visit the Council's Regional Parks pages to locate all the parks and the recreational opportunities they contain, or to learn more about regional parks planning.

The Council's newly updated Regional Parks Map is available in a printed version free of charge at libraries, park agency offices, and from the Council. Call 651.602.1500 for more information.