After a year-long hiatus, the Minnesota DNR’s summer program series is back and better than ever.
A year ago, most of us were probably sitting at home, staring at the walls, and wondering when this pandemic would be over. Since then, we’ve experienced great loss—we’ve lost loved ones, jobs, wellbeing, and social life. But throughout all of this, perhaps there is something we have gained: an appreciation for the little things in life.
Mere months ago, things looked much different. There was an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and uncertainty that touched almost everyone. Unable to gather with friends and family, go to restaurants or movie theaters, or do a lot of things we did before “coronavirus” became a commonly heard word, most of us turned to the outdoors as an escape from our own tiny quarantine bubbles.
Thankfully, the outdoors will continue to serve as a happy place for Minnesotans this summer. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is resuming its summer program series, which helps beginners of all ages learn new outdoor skills in Minnesota’s state parks or recreation areas. The programs, which have been revamped to implement COVID-19 safety protocols, will restart on the first weekend in June and continue throughout the summer.
The DNR currently plans to reopen facilities and resume services at state parks and recreation areas by Memorial Day weekend, including the following:
- All camping and lodging sites will reopen, with more bathrooms and shower buildings
available for public use.
- Most buildings and support facilities will reopen in accordance with indoor occupancy limits of 50 percent, including ranger stations, visitor centers, and nature stores. Some buildings and facilities may have limited hours of operation, depending on visitation and staffing levels.
- Many naturalist programs will resume. Check the DNR online calendar for opportunities available across the state. Pre-registration will be required to ensure capacity limits are maintained.
This summer, the DNR will be offering a variety of its “I Can!” programs, which include I Can Camp!, I Can Paddle!, I Can Mountain Bike!, and I Can Hike!
“At all of the I Can! programs, the health and safety of our program participants, program leaders, and state park staff is our highest priority. We are closely monitoring the most recent information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and are adjusting our programs accordingly to ensure our programs meet current health and safety guidelines,” says Verónica Jaralambides, marketing consultant for the DNR. “We’re taking extra precautions to ensure sanitization of all equipment used at I Can! Programs.”
Before heading out for an I Can! program, or just to enjoy the great outdoors, Jaralambides says to know the “Key 3” before you go:
- Arrive prepared. Buy your vehicle permit, check current visitor alerts and download maps in advance of your trip. Services and facilities may be limited, so bring everything you might need.
- Play it safe. Give full attention to your surroundings. Know your personal limits and don’t take unnecessary risks.
- Follow the rules. Continue to follow all COVID-related guidance, and practice social distancing—even outdoors. Help keep parks and trails pristine by staying on trails and disposing of trash properly.
To make the most of the short summer months in Minnesota, Jaralambides recommends trying a new activity through one of the DNR’s I Can! programs or visiting a Minnesota state park or trail you’ve not visited before.
“Enjoy the white sands at Zippel State Park or discover the magical headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca State Park. Hike up the bluffs of southeastern Minnesota (Great River Bluffs, John A. Latsch and Frontenac State Parks) for breathtaking views. Walk or ride the paved Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail through the prairie of southern Minnesota,” she says. “Or you can simply sit on the shore of Lake Mille Lacs at Father Hennepin State Park and relax. There are countless options for enjoying outdoor recreation, many of which don’t require more than a comfortable pair of shoes and the desire to spend time outside.”
Whatever activity you choose, Jaralambides says that it just matters that we all make time to spend outside and take a respite from the daily grind.
“Come visit a Minnesota state park or trail for a walk through the woods or prairie, for a picnic or a bike ride. Try mountain biking! Or paddle on a lake or river on a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board,” she says.
The Minnesota DNR’s website has a myriad of resources and information on where to go, what to do outdoors and how to do it safely. For more information about I Can! programs and to register, visit mndnr.gov/ican or contact the DNR at [email protected] or 888-646-6367.