Midwestern States Join the #OptOutside Movement.
After outdoor outfitter REI announced its #OptOutside movement in 2015 by remaining closed on Black Friday, more and more corporations, state, and local governments have followed suit. Not to be outdone, Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton kicked off the state’s own initiative in 2015 to get families off the couch and out into nature by announcing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) would be opening state parks for free admission the day after Thanksgiving. In honor of the Minnesota state parks and trails system’s 125th anniversary this year, and in response to last year’s success, the MnDNR released a statement that “Free Park Friday” would be back for an encore in 2016. Likewise, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) “Take It Outside” blog posted seven opportunities across the state to enjoy nature this holiday season and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WIDNR) is encouraging active holiday habits as well with its #GetOutdoors program.
These announcements come in on the coat-tails of a notably successful year for state parks and trails system. In MN alone, one-day parks and trails permit sales were up 6%, with year-round sales up 8% through the end of September.* Whether this increase can be attributed to the success of the MnDNR’s 125th Anniversary campaign urging Minnesotans to travel 125 miles by bike, foot, or boat by the end of 2016 or simply a reflection of more active lifestyle choices across the Midwest, both are promising for the health of Minnesotans and their environments. Likewise, growing parks and trails systems across Iowa and Wisconsin are showing similar piqued interest in the great outdoors from their residents, and this holiday season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting for users yet as the IDNR, too, celebrates its own 30-year anniversary in 2016.
As MnDNR Information Officer Amy Barrett pointed out, lots of families and individuals get outdoors during the warmer holidays such as Memorial and Labor Day, but many are unaware that many states have state parks and trails open 365 days a year.
“Minnesota has a longstanding outdoor tradition,” Barrett noted about her state’s outdoor legacy, “and Free Park Friday is another opportunity to showcase our unique year-round opportunities while taking part in a greater effort to promote active family lifestyles.”
Efforts to shift many parks and trails towards what is referred to as a “self-service model” has made independent visitor trips more convenient and interactive than ever. Newly installed informative panels and way-finding signage throughout Minnesota’s state park system, for example, offer trip tips, emergency information, and even timed hiking routes at trail heads that allow users to embark on self-guided adventures. Barrett noted that these resources are a win-win for Minnesotans, adding that “the self-service model not only allows people to get out hiking without waiting in line to purchase a vehicle permit at the park office, but it also allows Minnesota’s highly trained DNR staff to dedicate more time to operations and maintenance needs at the parks.”
Parks and Trails Legacy.
Thanks to legislation like Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment and support of local and nation-wide organizations, staff who manage regional and state parks and trails systems are working closer than ever with the shared mission to connect all Minnesotans to outdoor opportunities.
“Many local and regional parks are free all the time, and help get families hooked on the outdoors in general,” Barrett said. “They’re great gateways to the additional outdoor recreation opportunities available at Minnesota state parks and trails, which are further away but well worth the drive.” With vibrant natural opportunities of their own, the same can be said of Iowa and Wisconsin systems as well.
Want to take part in the #OptOutside movement? Check out your local state park on November 25th, take advantage of the naturalist-led Minnesota opportunities featured on Black Friday, or find more information online at either of the three state’s DNR websites below.