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Outdoor winter activities rise in popularity as experts expect another COVID-19 surge

Weary Minnesotans sick of staying indoors flock outside in record numbers.

ST PAUL, Minn. — At the St. Paul Farmer's Market, Emily and Connor are buying their first Christmas tree together.

"We're thinking of a Balsam Fir," said Connor. "There's less cleanup, less falling needles." 

They're not the only ones – just ask John Hanson.

"I mean, I've never seen a year like this," said Hanson who has worked for Wolcyn Tree Farms & Nursery for five years. The owner telling KARE11 Thanksgiving weekend was the best weekend the Cambridge farm has had in 20 years. 

"Can't blame people," said Hanson. "People can't go anywhere else so they come out and get a nice tree and enjoy some time outside with the family."

Overall, winter activities are booming.

The DNR says visits to state parks overall are up 20% from the beginning of the year, with parks in close proximity to the Twin Cities and Rochester metro areas seeing the highest visitation.

The following parks had the greatest percent increase in year-to-date use: Banning, Minnesota Valley, Fort Snelling, Fort Ridgely, Frontenac, Carley, Nerstrand, Lake Maria, Great River Bluffs, Interstate, Split Rock Lighthouse, Glendalough, Afton, Wild River, Minneopa, Cuyuna, Jay Cooke and Sakatah

Fishing licenses are also up 10% from this same time last year, with $1.1 million in license sales. And the DNR says a new Minnesota survey showed 18% of those who are interested in fishing indicated they’ve become more interested since the pandemic.

The Loppet Foundation in Minneapolis hosts outdoor adventures, focusing on underserved youth and families and it is reporting record attendance. The Marketing and Communications Director, Heidi Ledermann, says it took until Nov 19th last year to see 250 people purchase ski trail passes in one day, whereas this year we had 250 people purchase passes on Oct 30th. 

RELATED: Many turning to real Christmas trees as bright spot during coronavirus pandemic

Ledermann also wrote, "We had more people sign up for our Loppet Nordic Racing (LNR) Junior and Adult ski training programs in the first month our program registration was open than all of last year combined."

Loppet's recreational ski club for adults also has more participants than ever before and a waiting list already.

And Lutsen's Director of Sales and Marketing Jim Vick says they are already making reservations into April and weekdays are more popular for skiing as more people work remotely. Vick also says the resort's four chalets are currently closed due to the Governor's newest executive order but that they will open with a capacity limit once it's lifted.

Even simple outdoor activities can help you cope this time of year. Emily and Connor not only got fresh air, but also picked the perfect Christmas tree.

"I feel like our apartment will be a winter wonderland if she has her say," laughed Connor –  a bright spot they agreed, amid the virus's continuing surge and toll on people.

Another safe and festive activity outside are the 11 drive-thru light display events throughout Minnesota from the State Fairgrounds to Valleyfair. 

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