Minnesota State Park’s Budget Battle

Jay Cooke State Park Concerned About Budget Battles

“You name it every one of the parks on the shore there’s something really special there to get out and connect with nature,” Mark Kovacovich, District Supervisor; D.N.R. State Parks and Trails said.

Year after year, more and more people come to Minnesota’s State Parks to enjoy the outdoors.

“People can come in have a guided hike, learn a little something about the park, we take them fishing, we can teach them some skills and they can take part in that without paying extra for that,” Kris Hiller, Jay Cooke State Park Naturalist said.

Recently, parks along the North Shore have been offering candlelit snowshoe, ski and hiking opportunities, regardless of the cold weather.

“There’s many state parks that do this so anywhere you are usually can find a candlelight event at wintertime,” Hiller said.

Activities where families can come and enjoy the outdoors together.

“It’s really about connecting with nature, it’s about families it’s about unforgettable experiences,” Kovacovich said.

But with each fiscal year, comes talk of a new budget plan for the parks. State park employees tell us each year is a battle to find out what future funding will be. If it’s not as much as they hope, both programs and jobs could potentially be cut.

“We’ve been working with the legislature all along and the governors recommendation is to increase our funding for next fiscal year, around 4 million dollars,” Kovacovich said.

Three million from the general fund and one million from increases in fees.

“That’s a great start and we’re real thankful that the governor has set us on that course, so we’re optimistic,” Kovacovich said.

Cost of park day use passes would go from five to six dollars and annual passes would jump from 25 to 30 dollars. Those fee increases, would generate about a million more dollars per year for the state park budget.

“If we don’t get the funding and we have to live within the budgets that we have, we have some plans in play but it would mean a variety of services would be reduced.
In part, naturalist programs that bring the families together could be eliminated,” Kovacovich said.

“When we were cutting back naturalist staff, we would’ve had to reduce our programming at the park. There will be some parks that will have less naturalists at the parks this summer, and they will see a reduction in what they are able to offer,” Hiller said. 

And the impact of cuts could go beyond park programs.

“There would probably be less opportunities for hiking and camping,” Kovacovich said.

“What I see is that we have people coming that maybe they don’t know a lot about the outdoors or they don’t know that recreational skill. They know that they should be out there with their kids they just don’t know how to do it so I feel they appreciate having someone to guide them along for a little bit and that gives them confidence to go out on their own which is what our main goal is,” Hiller said.

And without those new comers, workers worry new generations will never know all state parks have to offer.

“But it’s those people that aren’t as familiar that we’re introducing them to the outdoors and without being able to do that we’re not going to be able to have that next generation then in our state parks system using our facilities,” Hiller said.

So if you’re wanting to find an outdoor adventure, you can be an important part of the state parks future without even knowing it.

“The more that we can grow and get people interested they’re our main supporters. They’re our main supporters and they’re the ones that talk to the local community leaders and say ‘this is important to me, I want to make sure that it’s funded the way that I want it funded’,” Hiller explained.

And there will be a state park naturalist waiting to take you on a new experience.

“It is my privilege to do this. To take people out and show them the outdoors. I had the good fortune to grow up in the Northwood’s and had a family that took me out and showed me different things so being able to share that with someone else, that means a lot to me,” Hiller said.

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