Parks Thrive on Commitment from Top to Bottom

The foundation of a robust park system in the seven-county metro is a 1974 state law that puts the Metropolitan Council in charge of preserving open space and developing regional parks.

Within that framework, cities and counties run individual or cooperative park systems. They maintain ball fields of every stripe; basketball, volleyball, tennis, and horseshoe courts; and rec centers, playgrounds, pools, disc golf courses, band shells, gardens, and more.

“The beauty of working for parks is that recreation can take so many different forms,” says Mary Livingstone, of Local 1842 in St. Paul.

The Metropolitan Council partners with 10 local units of government to support more than 50 regional parks and park reserves, with 54,842 acres open to the public, and 308 miles of trails.

That total acreage could hold the entire City of Minneapolis. The trail system is the equivalent of traveling from Rochester to Moorhead. But it gets better: The Met Council expects trail mileage to triple by 2030, and parkland to expand to 70,000 acres.

What impresses Susan Schmidt, Minnesota director of the Trust for Public Land, is how people in the Twin Cities continue to invest in parks – new and old. Access is key to why the Trust rated the Twin Cities’ park systems as the nation’s best.

Beyond recreation, parks contribute to personal, community, and environmental health, Schmidt says. They add beauty. And they lead to the social interaction, personal, and business activities that keep neighborhoods alive. “Parks can lead to a lot of good stuff,” she says.