While rightly set aside to pay tribute to the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country, Memorial Day also has taken on the mantle of being the unofficial start to the summer season in Minnesota.
With the winter we have just endured, and nice weather forecast for the majority of the upcoming weekend, the opportunity to get out and enjoy some sunlight and fresh air is a top priority for many.
If a state park is in your plans, you may be surprised to see how much things have changed, maybe even since you last visit. Thanks to the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which was approved overwhelmingly by the voters five years ago, a number of rather dramatic improvements have taken place at parks around the state.
One of my favorite parks has always been Jay Cooke, which is just a few miles outside of Duluth.
Following a major flood in 2012, a great deal of damage was done to buildings and the iconic swinging bridge in the park. But visitors this year will find the bridge has been re-opened, and thanks to legacy amendment funding, the River Inn Visitor Center has been modernized with a number of key upgrades. The River Inn was originally constructed of local rock and white pine in the early 1940s by the CivilianConservation Corps, and is currently on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to Jay Cooke, parks throughout the state have seen recent improvements. The amendment has allowed over 70,000 acres of native plant communities such as grassland and prairie to be restored onstate park lands. The Department of Natural Resources has also been able to complete renewable energy and energy conservation projects at parks including Big Bog, Glendalough, Grand Portage, Great River Bluffs, Lake Shetak and the Iron Range off-highway vehicle recreation area near Glibert. The amendment has also allowed ADA-approved picnic tables and safer fire rings to be installed at 1,600 campsites in state parks and 5 new camper cabins to be added to the state park system.
The enhancement to the state park system has not gone without notice. Since passage, State Park permit sales have increased by 18 percent, with daily permits up 16 percent and overnight stays up by ninepercent. And attendance at state park programming, another target of the amendment, is up nearly 40 percent in the five years since the amendment went into law.
Five years in, the Legacy Amendment is showing clearly that the funds are having the desired impact on preserving the state’s outdoors and cultural heritage.