By Jason DeMoe
Nature is something that many often take for granted. Yet, experiencing the natural beauty of the world is something that can enrich and enhance one’s life. Here in Minnesota, such beauty surrounds us in all corners of the state, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has several programs in place to sweeten the pot for any would-be adventurers.
The Minnesota State Park Hiking Club and the Minnesota State Park Passport Club are two programs designed to encourage folks to visit some or all of the 67 Minnesota state parks. My girlfriend, Kristina Handt, and I have completed both and we are on our second time through the Passport Club with our 2-year-old daughter. To join either club, a person simply needs to purchase a booklet ($14.99) from any state park office.
The hiking club lays out a challenge for a person to hike one specific trail (outlined in the booklet) in each state park. Along the way, you can earn pins and patches and free camping nights for hitting certain milestones. The entire journey consists of 194 miles of hiking. There is no timeline for the club, so hikers can push through (we finished in six months) or visit the parks at a leisurely pace and finish over the course of several years. Some of the required trails are a flat one-mile, while others are six miles of hills and rough terrain. The journey will see hikers traveling throughout the state, subsequently experiencing all of the different glorious landscapes that Minnesota has to offer.
Personally, my Minnesota hiking experience was a master class in pushing myself beyond my limits. When I began, I honestly had my doubts about being able to finish. When I hit my 194th mile at William O’Brien State Park in Marine on St. Croix, I almost cried.
Although I enjoyed the experience immensely, hiking nearly 200 miles is not for everyone. The Minnesota State Park Passport Club is perfect for the casual park visitor who might choose to take in the beauty of nature from the comfort of a park bench. The passport club requires no hiking. Simply visit the main office at a state park and get your passport club book stamped. This program is perfect for families with children who may find it difficult to handle a six-mile hike but still want to be involved. Passport club participants earn free camping nights along the way as well.
Once a person completes either club by visiting all of the state parks listed in the booklet, the DNR will create a customized plaque complete with the name of the club participant. The plaque will be mailed to a person’s home free of charge. It is a nice way to show off an accomplishment and also spark a conversation that may see others visiting state parks more often.
For our family, completing both clubs was only the beginning of our state park experience. We had so much fun and made so many memories that each time we vacation, we make it a point to stop in to at least one park. We often take a day on the weekend to get out to a park and just enjoy nature. Sometimes we hike and other times we just make great use of a playground facility or take part in one of many events offered by the park staff. (We once competed in a state park version of the CBS reality show “The Amazing Race.”)
Getting outside and enjoying nature just makes a person feel better. Fresh air and a nice walk in the woods or on a trail through an open field does wonders for the soul and is a great way to hit the reset button. Get out there and have some fun with all the nature that Minnesota has to offer. Trust me, you’ll be better for it.