- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota state parks officials say a surge in visitors isn’t letting up and they expect the trend to continue as fall colors spread across the state.

Year-to-date sales of one-day permits are up 16 percent over the same period last year, according to a post-Labor Day report from the Department of Natural Resources. Sales of year-round permits are up 12 percent. Overnight stays are up 9 percent.

Park officials first reported the surge after the Independence Day holiday weekend. They say the latest results continue a trend of steady increases in recent years.

“We’re pleased to see such a significant increase in the number of people making time to get outdoors,” said Erika Rivers, director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division, “and we hope today’s visitors will pass along their love of the outdoors to the next generation so that the trend continues.”

The DNR has added mountain bike trails, yurts and Wi-Fi at state parks in an attempt to appeal to the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts. It also has added kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals and programs that teach beginners outdoor skills.

Touch-screen kiosks, social media and a variety of online trip-planning tools, including virtual tours and ParkFinder, which sorts parks by desired features, such as whether they have a beach, a bike trail and naturalist programs, are also part of new outreach strategies.

Rivers said the Parks and Trails Fund, created after voters approved the state’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008, receives a portion of sales tax revenue and was used for the improvements.

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