Minnesota Launches Office to Crack Top 10 in Outdoor Recreation

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The Land of 10,000 Lakes has more than just fishing — and state officials want more people to explore its natural resources.

With the launch of a new outdoor recreation office and millions of dollars in investments, Minnesota joins many other states hoping for a bigger piece of the industry’s growing economic output.

The initiative aims to leverage the state’s natural resources to attract more visitors to its many opportunities for hunting, hiking, RVing, snowmobiling, and rafting, just to name a few. Minnesota already benefits from outdoor recreation, with $11.7 billion of economic output in 2022 and nearly 94,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

But the state still ranks 18th nationally for outdoor recreation — and state officials think they can break into the top 10.

“We have incredible forests, lakes and rivers, plus the seasons to enjoy them,” Laura Preus, section manager of the Minnesota Parks and Trails Division, told GearJunkie this week. “We’re poised to grow some of that untapped potential. Though we’ve always had it, it feels like these things are coming together at the right time.” 

canoe on Minnesota lake
A fisherman’s canoe on a northern Minnesota lake; (photo/Shutterstock)

A Push for Investment and Cooperation

Minnesota’s newly launched outdoor recreation office currently has just one employee: Randolph Briley, the state’s new deputy director of outdoor recreation.

His nascent office will help leverage the state’s existing resources by coordinating between four agencies: the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Explore Minnesota, and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR).

“The people of Minnesota are so passionate about the outdoors,” Briley told The Star Tribune. “But when we share our economic numbers and jobs numbers, we tend to be in the middle. There’s plenty of room for us to grow and expand.”

Minnesota, however, isn’t the only state competing for the attention of outdoors lovers.

About 20 other states across the country have created similar outdoor recreation offices over the last 10 years. Wisconsin, for example, just created one in 2019.

But Minnesota officials have also doubled down on their commitment with big investments.

Last year, state leaders approved nearly $150 million for outdoor recreation in the Get Out MORE bill. MORE stands for Modernize Outdoor Recreation Experiences (of course). That money will be used to update aging infrastructure in campgrounds and parks, as well as other improvements.

Plenty of Nature to Go ‘Round

Once you start digging into the numbers of Minnesota’s natural resources, it becomes a little clearer why state leaders think they’ve got what it takes to become an iconic outdoors destination.

For starters, they don’t just have 10,000 lakes — they actually have 11,842 public lakes, with plentiful options for fishing, boating, rafting, kayaking, and swimming. There are also 25 state hiking trails and 35 state water trails, most of them with designated campsites.

Even without access to an ocean, Minnesota’s lakes and rivers still offer over 180,000 miles of shoreline. That’s more than California, Florida, and Hawaii combined, MPR News reported. During winter, the state has over 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, according to Minnesota DNR.

In February, Minnesota hosted the World Cup of cross-country skiing. It was the first World Cup held on U.S. soil in more than 2 decades, according to CBS News.

“Things like that call attention to what Minnesota has to offer,” Preus said.

During the pandemic, Minnesotans flooded the state’s parks, as in many other states. Interest has continued to grow since then, and Preus hopes that by improving infrastructure and appealing to nature lovers, the state’s outdoor economy will only grow.

“We’re seeing more people coming out to our parks — we’re just seeing more of everything,” she said. “People are starting to see what we have here.”