Hikers at Devil's Lake State Park. State parks saw a surge in visits that prompted a proposal increase in Knowles-Nelson Stewardship funding.

After record year in state park attendance, Gov. Evers proposes large hike in stewardship spending

With businesses closed, Wisconsinites and residents from neighboring states flock to natural areas.

Laura Schulte with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Governor Tony Evers has recommended reauthorizing the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program for 10 years and increasing its funding to $70 million per year in his recent 2021-2023 budget proposal.

This recommendation comes after Wisconsin saw a huge increase in outdoor recreation due to restrictions on indoor activities from the pandemic. State parks received over 20 million visits and “sales of state park passes rose 42% over the number sold in 2019.”

The budget increase would include “$5 million a year for county forests, $1 million a year for state property development, $9 million a year for DNR land acquisition, and $22 million to $23 million a year for property development,” which includes outdoor facility projects such as building boat launches, playgrounds, restrooms, and trails.

While some lawmakers oppose renewing Knowles-Nelson, or would prefer a smaller funding amount, Wisconsin conservationists are excited by the governor’s proposal.

“Investment in land and water conservation has an impressive value in terms of what they return back to people. The stewardship program costs people about $20 a year, less than taking your family out for a meal,” Charlie Carlin, director of strategic initiatives for Gathering Waters, is quoted in the article. “In return, we get 650,000 acres that have been set aside for conservation, thousands of parks and trails. This is the foundation that supports outdoor recreation.” 

Learn more about the governor’s budget proposal and ways to support the renewal of Knowles-Nelson here.

Featured image by Tom Gill, 2017.

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