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DNR seeks public, private partners to promote outdoors

DNR commissioner Mark Holsten is looking for partnerships with communities to help market the state's parks and trails. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Explore Minnesota Tourism and the Department of Natural Resources are looking for more collaboration to get people to state parks and trails.

DNR commissioner Mark Holsten called for a meeting Thursday at Itasca State Park to get ideas on how to market the state's parks and trails more effectively.

"We are all in our capacity of life, going through a lot of changes, whether you are coming from the county or from a city or whether you're from a private business around here," he said. "We're having to do things differently.

"We're looking at our parks systems as a way, and our trail systems, to be more interconnected in our communities than they are today," Holsten said.

From a budget perspective, the state's parks and trails system is funded by two sources: by the users who buy permits and the general fund. Decreasing general fund revenues are challenging the state agency, he said.

It's forcing the agency to be more aggressive and business-like.

"We're having to think of programs and marketing and outreach in ways we've never had to before," Holsten said.

The DNR has already started to implement some new programs including the passage of a state law to have free fishing in state parks. People now don't need a fishing license to fish in a state park.

"Why? To increase those outdoors activities," Holsten said.

The DNR has also been outreaching to private businesses too. It has a partnership with Best Buy to do geocaching in some of the state parks. The company donated GPS equipment for people to use as they explore the parks.

"(Geocaching) has had a dramatic impact in how many new visitors we've been bringing into our parks systems," Holsten said. "...It's had a dramatic impact."

A similar partnership is being done with REI. The business brings camping equipment into the parks and then finds people who have never camped before to give them the experience. The company can then track if people come back into a store to buy equipment.

"We've got new visitors, they've got new clients," he said.

The DNR has been working with Explore Minnesota Tourism as well.

"We understand that the only way we are ultimately going to succeed is through partnerships with local communities and private industry," Holsten said.

Explore Minnesota Tourism executive director John Edman also spoke about partnerships.

"The point here is to figure out how we can develop new partnerships with local communities to better promote tourism, benefit the state of Minnesota, benefit the residents, and benefit the communities," he said.

Tourism and natural resources go hand in hand, Edman said. People travel to Minnesota because of the outdoor recreation activities.

Explore Minnesota works with the DNR on the Governor's Fishing Opener, fall color reports and Web site promotions among other behind-the-scene activities.

"They're an agency that's responsible for managing the natural resources of the state of Minnesota. My job is to market it," Edman said.

Travel and tourism is an $11 billion industry in Minnesota. It is comparable to agriculture as far as the amount of money it contributes to the state, he said.

Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce director Katie Magozzi said she would like to see more partnership between the parks and local chambers, whose job is to market activities.

An example of a recent collaboration is between Bear Paw Resort and Itasca State Park. The resort purchased park passes at a discount to hand out free to people who stay at the resort.

The collaboration gets more people into the park.

The commissioner said more discussion will take place in the future about ways for the DNR to collaborate with communities to increase tourism in the state's parks.