The Department of Natural Resources’s State Parks periodically hosts candlelight walk events to inspire more members of the community to experience the parks and trails.
The Fort Snelling State Park hosts its annual New Year’s Eve Candlelight Walk in which they’ve received, on average, about 2000 attendees. In 2019, 2600 people came to the walk, but in other events, upwards of 4000 people have attended. Lead Naturalist Krista Jensen said, “I think an attendance of 2000 or so is much more manageable, from a park operations perspective, and enjoyable, from a visitor’s perspective.” For Afton State Park, an overall smaller area, the attendance has increased by 200 to 300 people every year. They set a new record this past year with 1200 people attendees.
A recent email string between naturalists researching and finding historical data from the parks uncovered that the events began with the Minnesota State Parks and Trails in the 80s.
The goal of the candlelight walks is to bring together the community at once. Jensen said, “People are meeting their neighbors, learning about the parks (or trails) and interacting in a way that’s novel. Not many people take the time to take a night hike, and a night hike lit by candles is definitely going to make memories. The event on New Year’s Eve has become an integral part of many families’ celebration of the holiday.”
The parks are often empty on winter nights, and for Afton Area Interpretive Naturalist, Linda Radimecky, the candlelight events are the perfect way to combat the emptiness. But the set-up process, which for Brown’s Creek took two hours for a one-mile trail, and clean-up wouldn’t be worth it if there wasn’t a large turnout. For a three hour event at Brown’s Creek, numerous volunteers needed to be on-site at all times for six hours. Radimecky said, “We have Candlelight walks because they are a beautiful way to get out and enjoy the Minnesota State Parks in a season and time of day that many people do not experience. It takes many hours to get ready for one of these events, so having a big turnout is great.”
For nature lovers and regular candlelight walk attendees, the events became a way to give back to the community and the environment. Soon after attending, numerous people became volunteers.