DNR to request $33m for state parks and trails improvements

Stoney River grade, Lake County. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Stoney River grade, Lake County. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plans to request $33 million from the Legislature this year to help fund upgrades and repairs to assets including buildings, trails and roads.

According to the department, 737 of the buildings the DNR owns are in “crisis” or “poor” condition. This request is a part of the department’s larger capital bonding request set at $72.5 million.

The DNR’s list of projects

  • Campground renovations at Jay Cooke State Park
  • Improvements and upgrades to fish hatcheries statewide
  • Rehabilitation of substandard buildings components and accessibility improvements
  • Reforestation of roughly 12,500 acres of state land
  • Acquisition and development of recreational features in state parks and trails
  • Acquisition of land for the state’s scientific and natural areas, native prairie bank and wildlife management areas for pheasant habitat
  • Flood hazard mitigation

Chris Niskanen, communications director, explained the department looked at all of the buildings the DNR owns, which is just over 2,700, along with over 600 miles of state trails, water control structures and roads, to see what is needed.

Capital assets are structures of some form that are built on the department’s land with a minimum life cycle of 20 years. After looking at all of the department’s assets, Niskanen said, “We found a lot were deficient.”

Image from
Image: DNR’s 10-year Capital Asset Plan

The DNR’s full report can be found here: 10-year Capital Asset Plan

The department hopes to make enough improvements to state parks and trails, bringing the status from “crisis” to “average” over the next 10 years, the DNR reports. The DNR requires $144.7 million per year to pay for necessary improvements and maintain their assets.

“Each year this amount is not invested into DNR’s capital assets results in higher costs,” the report states.

The DNR reported that as of 2016, the department needs about $453 million. That figure is added up from the total amount of deferred maintenance, current maintenance, and renewal and replacement, according to the report.

The department acknowledged in the report this amount isn’t likely to be used all at once, but a “realistic goal” would be about $34 million annually over the next 10 years.

During the latest recession, Niskanen said it was difficult to come up with the bonding money. Now that the recession is over, the DNR is moving forward with these projects.

“We’re doubling down on fixing some of these assets that are important for our employees and recreationalists,” he said. “We do have money that helps with that, but it’s not enough.”

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Roof and window replacement at Old Mill State Park. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Roof and window replacement at Old Mill State Park. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He explained some buildings need new roofs, while some need electrical updates and energy efficient windows to be installed as an investment toward conserving energy. But, some state parks are experiencing other kinds of drawbacks that could be seen as directly affecting visitor experience.

At Mille Lacs State Park, Niskanen said that the sewer system is at least 80 years old.

“It’s long past its lifespan,” he continued. “I know sometimes the sewer backs up, the showers or toilets back up.”

The push for investing in these repairs and updates comes from statewide improvements to infrastructure. Niskanen said Gov. Mark Dayton has made improving infrastructure a priority and that sense of importance resonates with the DNR.

“It’s important for our visitors to have the best possible experience,” he continued. “And, we want them to continue to come back.”

From the department’s visitor surveys, Niskanen said the bar has been set high. It’s often, he said, that park goers rate Minnesota State Parks high for facility cleanliness, staff friendliness, and for the overall beauty of the parks.

“They want a good experience,” he said. Improvements are needed at many state parks, according to the DNR, but if funding goes through, Itasca State Park is at the top of the improvements list.

Itasca attracts around 500,000 visitors each year. The state park demands for an upgraded sewer system and public water access, along with improvements toward Nicollet Court and park safety.

Erika Rivers, director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division, said in a press release, “Minnesota’s oldest state park and one of its busiest celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, and it is showing its age.”

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