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DNR commissioner says future of trails depends on visitors

By Dawn Schuett

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

ZUMBROTA — While advocates of trails and parks in southeastern Minnesota already promote the health and recreational benefits, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is encouraging supporters to become more aggressive in their efforts.

Mark Holsten, who has led the state agency for almost two years, said the parks and trails system competes for people’s leisure time and that the future of such outdoor recreation will depend on the ability of the DNR and other organizations to "recruit" visitors. Holsten made his remarks Thursday at the Zumbrota VFW to about 50 people attending a workshop organized by the Southeastern Minnesota Association of Regional Trails.

Changing demographics

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People’s lifestyles are changing, as are Minnesota’s demographics, Holsten said.

Things like video games are a popular entertainment option for many people, so the DNR is devising programs with an electronic aspect. Holsten said state parks partnered with an electronics company to bring people in for geocaching, a growing hobby in which participants use a Global Positioning System device for an outdoor treasure hunt.

"Granted, I have to teach them what poison ivy is and what ticks are, but that’s OK," Holsten said.

With baby boomers reaching retirement age, parks designed in the 1950s don’t necessarily meet the needs of today’s park visitors, he said.

The settling of different ethnic groups in Minnesota is increasing the state’s diversity and has also resulted in communities with little knowledge of the outdoor experience.

"We have to understand that going to a park isn’t such a natural thing," Holsten said. "We’re having to totally reinvent ourselves as an agency to educate people about the parks and trails system."

Economic impact

Minnesota has 72 state parks and recreation areas and 2,507 miles of state trails with 554 of those miles paved.

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Members of several trail groups in southeast Minnesota and others talked about the economic impact of existing trails and their work to see that more are constructed.

Peggy Hanson, innkeeper of the Cady Hayes House Bed and Breakfast in Lanesboro, said gross sales from lodging in Fillmore County were $239,000 in 1989, four years after the Root River Trail opened. In 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, gross sales from lodging in Fillmore County were $4.6 million.

The trail attracts visitors from throughout Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, and Hanson said she believes there’s huge potential in luring visitors from Chicago. Her dream for the future, Hanson said, is high-speed rail from Chicago to Minneapolis with stops in La Crosse and Winona to bring more tourists to the region. Hanson encouraged those at the workshop to "encourage legislators to think big and spend money on maintenance (of trails), too."

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

Southeastern Minnesota Association of Regional Trails http://www.dot.state.mn.us/bike/SMART/

Minnesota State Parks http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/list.html

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