DNR names Erika Rivers director of Parks and Trails Division

(Released March 3, 2014)

Current director set to retire in April

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr will appoint Assistant Commissioner Erika Rivers to serve as director of the Parks and Trails Division when its current director, Courtland Nelson, retires in April. 
DNR Leadership TeamRivers, 41, was appointed assistant commissioner by Landwehr in 2011 and currently oversees three divisions for the commissioner’s office: Parks and Trails, Fish and Wildlife, and Enforcement. Prior to her work in the commissioner’s office, she served the agency for seven years in northern Minnesota in various planning and outreach roles. She began working closely with the Parks and Trails Division in 2010, when she managed the development of the master plan for Minnesota’s newest state park on Lake Vermilion.

“I asked Erika to make this move because I believe she is uniquely positioned to continue moving the Parks and Trails Division toward realizing its vision of ‘creating unforgettable experiences that inspire people to pass along the love for the outdoors to current and future generations,’” Landwehr said.  “Erika has proven herself a strong leader during her three years in the commissioner’s office.”

According to Landwehr, Rivers, will bring great energy and enthusiasm to the Parks and Trails Division with her deep passion for connecting people of all backgrounds to the outdoors, a focus on continuous improvement and Better Government for a Better Minnesota, and a strong emphasis on collaboration between DNR divisions and with external partners.

“The parks and trails system is our most comprehensive and accessible way to connect all Minnesotans to the outdoors, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to learn that Erika Rivers will lead it,” said Greg Lais, founder of Wilderness Inquiry. “Erika is very committed to providing opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. She is innovative, partner minded, and she gets things done. People like working with her.”

Lais and Wilderness Inquiry work extensively with the DNR to connect youth and families to the outdoors through a collaborative program called Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures that reaches thousands of underserved youth throughout the state.

While in the commissioner’s office, Rivers oversaw the development of strategic plans, development planning for the Fort Snelling Upper Post, Lake Vermilion State Park and La Salle Lake State Recreation Area, and the initiation of Phase II of off-highway vehicle system planning. She also has helped facilitate collaboration between the Met Council, DNR and Greater Minnesota on planning and allocation of the Parks and Trails Legacy funding that was approved by Minnesota voters in 2008.

Rivers will oversee a $103 million annual budget and a staff of 1,200 full- and part-time employees. State parks and trails host more than 9 million visitors each year and help support Minnesota’s $11.9 billion tourism industry. The division manages:

  • 76 state parks and recreation areas.
  • 62 state forest campgrounds and day use areas.
  • Thousands of miles of state trails: forest (390), horse (1,000), ski (730), off-highway vehicle (1,000), snowmobile (950), water trails (4,530).
  • 1,500 public water access sites.
  • 350 fishing piers.

“It has been my privilege to serve in the commissioner’s office under Commissioner Landwehr for the past three years,” Rivers said. “I am honored and excited to be returning to the Parks and Trails Division to lead the talented staff and important work that’s being done there to connect people to the outdoors and Minnesota’s natural and cultural resources.”

Rivers holds a Ph.D. in conservation biology from the University of Minnesota. She shares her love of the outdoors with her young family through a variety of outdoors interests, including archery, hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing and camping.