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ND Parks & Rec Connection January 2021 Newsletter

Message from our Director

Director Andrea Travnicek participated in the lighting of the blockhouse at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park to wrap up 2020 and kicked off 2021 with the First Day Hike at Cross Ranch State Park. Follow along with her adventures on Instagram @ndparks_directortrav.

It’s hard to believe, but 2021 is officially here. Although I am excited to have 2020 behind us, I am grateful for what we learned as a Department in uncertain times as we were able to adjust quickly, be innovative and still offer great customer service and recreational opportunities across the state of North Dakota.

As we reflected on 2020 accomplishments as a Department, we noted the record visitation with 1.29 million visitors to the North Dakota state parks last year. COVID provided an opportunity for individuals, friends and families to safely reconnect with each other and the natural surroundings the state has to offer. In 2020 we were also able to continue to work toward meeting evolving visitor needs, maintaining and improving park properties, and strengthening partnerships at the local, state and federal levels.

The start of 2021 has centered around the 67th Legislative Session, which began the first week of January. The Department’s proposed budget includes much needed infrastructure funding through bonding and legacy fund earnings. Specifically, the Department is requesting $9.88 million that would be used to meet infrastructure needs across the park system. Immediate infrastructure needs include seasonal and park ranger housing; marina repairs; utility upgrades; lagoon studies and enhancements; and fiber upgrades. In addition, $10 million has been requested to assist in reducing a $74 million deferred maintenance backlog related to buildings, roadways and shorelines across the state parks. Finally, two grant programs are also included in the proposed budget with $20.6 million for park district infrastructure grants through bonding and $10 million for a State Park challenge grant program if Legacy Fund earnings exceed $505 million on June 30, 2021.

Infrastructure is central to the management of North Dakota state parks. Park properties are similar to small communities with housing, buildings, rest areas, roadways, bridges, sewer systems, and water and electrical utilities. Maintaining and improving these assets in a timely manner leads to opportunities to reinvest in the state parks as a result of increased visitation and potential private and public partnerships.

If you have any questions about the Department’s budget or agency bills that are being discussed do not hesitate to contact me or park staff. And if you are looking to get outside this winter and Be North Dakota Legendary, be sure to get registered for the 12 Months-12 Hikes Challenge or participate in the Adventure Challenge. Both challenges started January 1 and run all year long. Hope to see you at a North Dakota state park soon!

- Andrea Travnicek, Director

PROJECT UPDATES

Visitor Survey & Economic Impact Study

As visitors’ needs continue to evolve, there is a need to gather updated data to better understand how park properties can be maintained or improved to enhance the visitor experience. Funds were allocated in the last legislative session allowing the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department (NDPRD) to conduct a visitor/non-visitor survey, community survey and economic impact study.

NDPRD worked with Resource System Group (RSG) to launch the visitor and non-visitor surveys mid-December 2020, which have already collected over 6,000 responses. The community survey launched this week. In partnership with North Dakota State University, the corresponding economic impact study will yield a robust data set to better understand impacts on local communities.

The surveys will be conducted through early-February 2021, and we anticipate having a final report back from RSG in May 2021. We look forward to hearing from visitors, non-visitors and adjacent community members so we can gain valuable knowledge, aiding the Department in future planning, development, marketing and management efforts called for in the 2018-2022 Strategic Plan.

We encourage you to participate in the visitor/non-visitor survey by clicking the button below. Thank you!

Statewide Programs for 2021

Our two new, statewide programs for 2021, the Adventure Challenge and the 12 Months-12 Hikes Challenge, officially kicked off January 1, 2021. Both programs generated much enthusiasm and high initial participation from individuals and families who took advantage of the mild winter weather. The challenges create incentive to visit multiple NDPRD locations and to learn and try new activities and trails throughout the state all year long. In addition, these challenges are COVID-friendly and promote healthy well-being by getting outside and being active. Participants can pick one challenge or do both!

The 12 Months-12 Hikes Challenge requires online registration, and hikes must be completed within the two-week time periods each month. The Adventure Challenge has a dedicated Facebook page for participants, where they can view the list of challenges and submit their photos via Facebook Messenger to prove completion.

Traffic Counters

The 66th Legislative Assembly also included dollars for the start of a new traffic counter system. The current technology at most properties is outdated and requires manual collection of data. Traffic counters are the primary method of establishing a visitor count for 15 destination properties, and the accuracy of this data is important for the Department to better understand visitation trends and staff accordingly. Three parks will be used as part of a pilot program including Fort Stevenson, Icelandic and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Parks. The Request for Proposal (RFP) was due January 18 and will be awarded in February 2021.

Members of the advisory committee for the Lewis & Clark State Park master plan discuss the vision for the park.

MASTER PLANNING

As part of its 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department has made concerted efforts to implement a consistent planning strategy for the park system and update park-specific master plans. Master plans set the course for the future of park development, improvements and advancements. They represent the public’s vision for the park and are a declaration of priorities and needs. Master plans identify target areas to focus resources, update priorities, identify needed areas for improvement, and assess current and future trends.

In 2020, the Department kicked off the master planning process for Lewis and Clark State Park. The plan helps to ensure that Lewis & Clark State Park fulfills the vision of “uniting a diverse region through outdoor experiences, while cultivating a youthful and rejuvenated community.” This master plan was driven by an extensive public engagement process that included meeting with an advisory committee and outreach to North Dakota citizens and park visitors through public surveys, focus group interviews, a virtual public open house, and a live questions and answer session. The plan is currently being drafted by our team in the Planning Division, and additional opportunities for public engagement will be announced in the next few weeks.

In 2021, NDPRD will initiate master plans for Crow Flies High State Recreation Area, Fort Stevenson State Park and Icelandic State Park. The planning process aims to attract broad public input from the state’s citizens and visitors to develop the desired future vision for their parks. For more information on the status of master plans, or for those interested in being updated or involved in public outreach, please email us.

Community Partnerships

Recreational Trails Program Update

The Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which is administered through the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department (NDPRD) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), is a grant program that provides funding for both motorized and non-motorized recreational trail projects. In 2019, the Maah Daah Hey Trail Association (MDHTA) submitted an RTP grant application with plans to restore a segment of one of the most legendary trails in North Dakota.

“We receive a lot of usage on the Maah Daah Hey Trail from bikers to hikers to horseback riders. This usage along with the weather, especially heavy rains, has caused the silt surfacing to turn into a clay gumbo at times,” said Curt Glasoe, MDHTA President. The goal of the project, which was awarded funds in fiscal year 2020, was to resurface the south Sully Creek end of the existing trail by using a four-inch compacted gravel surfacing. The MDHTA enlisted the help of 59 volunteers who came from North Dakota as well as Montana, Minnesota and Florida to assist with the hauling, leveling and compacting of the gravel surfacing. “We are anticipating that this gravel resurfacing lasts for 20 to 22 years which will help us out in reaching our mission to preserve the existing trail,” Glasoe explained.

NDPRD is proud to support numerous trail projects such as this with the help of the Recreational Trails Program Advisory Committee (RTPAC). A total of nine committee members are appointed by the Director of the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department and must be recreational trail users and represent trail interests (such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, paddling, OHV and snowmobile). The committee reviews and prioritizes grant applications and recommends projects for funding. This year, we welcome three new members to the RTPAC including Chuck Neubauer (non-motorized), Daniel Driessen (motorized at-large) and Todd Storey (off-highway vehicle).

For more information about the MDHTA, please visit http://mdhta.com. If you have questions about the Recreational Trails Program, please contact the Grants Coordinator at (701) 328-5357 or send an inquiry to parkrec@nd.gov.

Snowmobile Safety Courses

Building off a successful season of Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) safety courses in 2020, the NDPRD Motorized Recreation division has been conducting snowmobile safety courses, both online and in person.

Key partnerships in Cass County have resulted in beneficial safety training for many local youths. On December 28 and 29, 2020, NDPRD staff conducted four snowmobile safety courses in Cass County, which reached approximately 40 youth ages 10-16. All participants had also attended the OHV training in the fall and had higher than average test scores. Thank you to Cass County Sheriff’s Office, Central Cass School, Horace Fire Department, Northern Cass School and Buffalo Fire Department for their partnerships.

NDPRD is committed to improving the safe operation of snowmobiles across the state and will continue to develop new partnerships for our youth program. Upcoming virtual safety courses are scheduled for January 30, February 13 and February 27. Interested participants should register online here.

If your community has a need for additional motorized recreation safety courses, please email our Motorized Recreation Coordinator to discuss possible partnerships.

Now Hiring Seasonal Employees

Every year, the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department offers a variety of rewarding seasonal positions during the summer months, along with offering its campground host volunteer program.

Our nearly 200 seasonal employees play an important role in providing quality, memorable experiences for our visitors and maintaining our park trails and infrastructure. We're seeking individuals statewide who are passionate about the outdoors and are customer-service driven. If you or someone you know are interested in joining our team, current job openings can be found on our website.

Volunteer Opportunities

An expanded volunteer program through the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department offers individuals and groups the opportunity to volunteer their time and talents to impact our state parks. Whether you're interested in helping with vehicle or trail maintenance projects or volunteering in the visitor center, a meaningful volunteer experience can be tailored to your special skill set. CLICK HERE to view our list of current volunteer needs, contact the park you're interested in volunteering at and fill out our online application.

Retired individuals or those with summers off may also consider volunteering to work in a North Dakota state park as a Campground Host. This program offers volunteers free, full-service camping for the duration of their summer stay in exchange for performing host duties ranging from welcoming and assisting campers with setup to selling firewood or assisting with special events. Campground Host spots are already filling fast for the 2021 season. Volunteer spots are still open for:

On the Horizon

Roadway Improvements at Icelandic State Park

During the winter months, our team takes the opportunity to plan for the upcoming construction season while maintaining limited disruptions to peak camping season. Currently, the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department is working with Moore Engineering Inc. to complete the engineering phase of a roadway project at Icelandic State Park. The project will be opened up for bid this spring, allowing us to determine the extent of construction we will undergo.

NDPRD anticipates all of Icelandic State Park’s road infrastructure to be addressed in some format, from asphalt repairs to a seal coat. The Department will work closely with our contractors to limit the amount of disruption and delays anyone has in the park while making sure our infrastructure gets some much needed care and maintenance. As construction schedules develop, we will make sure to notify our park users.

Winter Recreation Month

The North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, in conjunction with North Dakota Recreation and Parks Association, invite you to join us in celebrating Winter Recreation Month in February.

Snow or no snow, there are still many ways you can get outside for some fresh air in our North Dakota state parks during the winter months. Mild weather allows park users to take a scenic hike, go on a geocaching adventure or get the kids or dogs out of the house with a trip to the playground or dog park. When snow conditions do become ideal, visitors can explore 122 miles of snowshoeing trails and 81 miles of cross country ski trails within our 13 state parks. We also offer access to 2,800 miles of snowmobile trails across North Dakota. If you're looking for the full experience, take advantage of our year-round lodging facilities that are available for cozy overnight stays.

Looking to try something new? Many of our state parks have winter recreation equipment available for rent including:

  • Fat tire bikes
  • Cross country skis
  • Snowshoes
  • Kicksleds (a new offering this year!)

We look forward to celebrating Winter Recreation Month with you and hope to see you on the trails!

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