After an increase in park attendance across the state, and even locally, a group of outdoor enthusiasts have pushed forward recommendations for the state to create its own office for outdoor recreation.

The great outdoors has provided a haven during the pandemic, a space to socially distance from strangers and a way to get out the house. Local outdoor recreation area staff have seen an increase in visitors over the past year and some are anticipating similar volumes of people this spring and summer. Just as increases in park visitation start to pick up, a group of outdoor enthusiasts, known as the Minnesota Outdoor Recreation Task Force has finalized its recommendation to enhance outdoor recreation within the state.

Near the end of March, a group of 21 people consisting of representatives from the outdoor business community, youth organizations, conservation organizations, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and community groups met to discuss the future of the state’s outdoor recreation community. The task force has been meeting since April 2020 to develop recommendations to support accessible and equitable outdoor activities throughout various sectors of outdoor recreation. Additionally the group hopes to create a more unified outdoor recreation community.

The group’s final recommendations fall under four categories, which were then forwarded to the DNR and Explore Minnesota:

• Advance equity, diversity and inclusivity

• Unite Minnesota’s outdoor recreation community

• Unify communication

• Create and fund Minnesota’s office of outdoor recreation

While most members were in agreement regarding the final recommendations, there were lengthy conversations about the structure of a future office of outdoor recreation. Many states already have their own offices for outdoor recreation and Minnesota is one of the latest intending to join that initiative.

Despite the DNR and Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism arm, organizing the task force, the majority of the members of the task force want the office to be independent. Determining the structure, funding and what the office would look like is yet to be determined, with many members weighing in on this aspect of the discussion.

Final actionable recommendations were completed and forwarded on to the DNR and Explore Minnesota for further consideration. Task force members discussed continuing their collaborative next steps in the process of creating the office. If an independent office is created, it would likely need to go through the legislative process, and with the current legislation in session, getting it into consideration this time round is unlikely.

“I hate to say it but there is a little bit of more work because there’s definitely a lot more questions on what an independent office looks like. So I’m pledging to work with all of you and to try to figure that out,” said John Edman, chair of Explore Minnesota.

The team will now look at the finer details of creating such an office, drawing inspiration from established outdoor recreation offices in the 14 states with an office already set up.

DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen expressed her interest to continue working out the office details and reiterated the need to take into account non-government sectors, private sectors and outdoor recreation providers into the structure of the prospective office. Even though the final set of recommendations have been sent off, some task force members interested in continuing that work on developing will continue to stay in touch as the project slowly moves along.

Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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