The official number of visits to regional parks and trails in the Twin Cities metro area reached an all-time high of 58.3 million in 2017, according to the Metropolitan Council.
Council officials say the significant increase – 22 percent over 2016 – is due largely to updated estimates of parks usage in the fall, winter, and spring across the region. The Council counts parks users annually in the summer and then pairs that data with survey-generated estimates of fall, winter and spring usage to obtain an annual visitor estimate. The data for spring, winter and fall usage had not been updated since 2008.
“Parks are the cornerstone of community,’” said Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff. “They lend insights into who we are and what we value; places where we come together as family, friends and neighbors to recreate and celebrate, or escape to experience the quiet and tranquility of our treasured natural environment.
“Wherever your preference or whatever the occasion, the regional parks system offers a vast array of choices among the region’s network of regional parks and trails. They are our regional treasure.”
The most visited regional parks continue to be the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and Como Regional Park and Conservatory, with 7.1 million and 5.4 million visits, respectively.
New to the regional parks system in 2017 were:
Above the Falls Regional Park in Minneapolis
Lake Links Regional Trail in Ramsey County
Minnesota River Bluffs Regional Trail in Dakota County.
A more accurate reflection of park usage
The estimate of park visits is based on counts of visitors that enter parks and trails from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Off-season visits (winter, spring, and fall) are estimated in a survey by asking regional park and trail visitors how often they visit the parks during the off-season months. This survey was most recently completed in 2016 and was implemented in the annual visitation estimate for the first time in 2017. The survey had not been conducted since 2008. The updated survey data suggest more people are visiting parks in the off-season than previously believed.
Parks: more than a pretty face
Parks play a critical role in helping to create and shape livable communities. The Trust for Public Land ranked Minneapolis and Saint Paul park systems #1 and #2, respectively, in the nation in 2018, based on acreage committed to parks, financial investment, amenities and access.
It’s the goal of the national nonprofit to ensure that every child has easy access to a safe place to play in nature.
Parks contribute to quality of life, livability and economic and social vitality. Tchourumoff says we should never short-change parks when it comes to their value and the connection they offer to nature and the outdoors.
Regional parks: a cadre of collaboration
The regional system includes 55 regional parks and park reserves, totaling more than 54,000 acres, nearly 400 miles of interconnected trails, and eight special recreation features, including Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, Gale Woods Farm, Noerenberg Gardens and Silverwood Park.
More than three-quarters of all 2017 visits were to regional parks, special recreation features and park reserves. The remaining visits went to the growing network of regional trails.
While summer is the most popular time to visit regional parks and trails, Council officials say any time is a good time to take advantage of the opportunity for leisure, fun, exercise, as well as wildlife and natural habitat.
The Regional Parks System is operated by 10 regional park implementing agencies, including cities, counties, and special park districts, which work with the Council to protect natural resources and provide outdoor recreation for public enjoyment. The Council provides long-range system planning, investment, and coordination.
A regional parks map helps to identify regional parks and park activities. A new online feature, Minnesota Great Outdoors website, helps residents find amenities at state and regional parks and trails, whether it’s a dog park, ski and bike trails, swimming pools, fishing holes, kayaking or camping.
Read the complete 2017 Regional Parks System Annual Use Estimate (pdf).