Today more than one hundred parks, waysides, monuments, historic sites, and trails are operated by the State of Minnesota. They fulfill the plea of Newton H. Winchell, state geologist and archaeologist, who in 1889 stressed the value of a system of public parks and of "... the healthful resort that it would afford for those living in the cities."
Minnesota's parks preserve portions of the state's varied topography that ranges from forests to prairies and wetlands to lakes. They also include vivid representations of the state's geological story from continental seas, the work of numerous glaciers, and subsequent erosion. Also, much of the history of this area is preserved within state parks; these resources include Native American earthworks, military forts, a lighthouse, and numerous other historic places and structures. Many of them are beautiful stone and wooden buildings constructed in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Minnesota's State parks are truly "Everyone's Country Estate," a description that came from the title of Roy W. Meyer's book on the history of the state park system. Efforts began in 1885 to preserve some of the state's natural resources and to provide places for its citizens and visitors to enjoy. In that year the Minnesota State Legislature
authorized the establishment of Minnehaha State Park; it never gained this status, but today it serves as on of the most important parks in the Minneapolis park system. It was in 1891 that Itasca famed as the source of the Mississippi River became the initial park in the statewide system and it retains that premier position. At Itasca and the other state parks all people are given the opportunity to encounter nature and its many wonders as well as numerous significant episodes in human history.