- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota state parks drew record crowds during the Fourth of July holiday, according to figures released Wednesday, as visitors took advantage of the long weekend to spend time outdoors.

Occupancy at state park campgrounds hit 84 percent, compared with 79 percent last year, figures from the Department of Natural Resources show. It was the highest percentage of campsites and other park lodgings booked for any holiday weekend including Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends since the agency launched its current reservation system in 2012, said Amy Barrett, the department’s Parks and Trails spokeswoman. The agency’s occupancy numbers don’t go back further.

“We are so pleased to see more and more people getting outdoors to enjoy Minnesota state parks and trails,” Barrett said.

The figures show 8,332 of the system’s available nights for campsites, cabins and yurts were booked for the holiday weekend.

Another measure that goes further back and makes the department confident it set a new high for occupancy is vehicle permit sales, which set a record last year, beating a mark set in 2010. Given that occupancy rates for this year’s Independence Day weekend were even higher than last year, Barrett said the agency is sure it exceeded all past years. Year-to-date daily permit sales by June 30 were up 30 percent over the same period in 2014 while sales of annual permits were up 17 percent.

DNR officials credit many of the gains to the revenue that parks and trails get from the Legacy Amendment sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.

“Just as people were looking for more affordable ways to vacation, Legacy funding allowed us to remind them about all the free and low-cost things there are to do right here in their home state. And even though the economy has improved, the number of visits to Minnesota state parks and trails continues to climb, which bodes well for the future,” Barrett said.

For parents looking for ways to keep kids from getting bored the rest of this summer, Barrett said there are still openings in many of the parks’ “I Can!” programs, which teach camping, canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking, rock climbing and other outdoor skills to beginners of all ages. Details about programs and openings are available on the Minnesota State Parks and Trails reservations website.

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Online:

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

I Can! Program reservations: https://reservations1.usedirect.com/MinnesotaWebHome/activities/search.aspx

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