Legacy-funded programs at Minnesota state parks and trails help connect people to nature

(Released October 30, 2013)

“Thank you for showing us the prairie and teaching us about prairies and why we have them,” said a fifth-grader from Osceola after a trip to Wild River State Park. “I had to drag my kids here, and now they won’t stop exploring,” said a dad who participated in an I Can Camp! program with his family. “This is one of the best uses of my tax dollars,” said a mother of three after participating in a canoeing program at Lake Louise State Park.

More people than ever are having positive experiences in nature as a result of Legacy funding for expanded programming at Minnesota state parks and trails. Legacy funding has allowed the Parks and Trails Division to offer more than 2,000 additional interpretive programs annually, with the help of a new Minnesota Naturalist Corps. The Corps provides opportunities for 30 aspiring natural resource professionals to share their passion for the outdoors with key audiences, particularly youth, while gaining valuable job experience working as year-round or seasonal naturalists at Minnesota state parks and trails.

The need to invest in park programs that cater to children was identified in a 2007 Minnesota State Parks Research Report.  The research revealed that families would visit state parks and trails if there were programs for children.

“Quite often, what we do as kids becomes what we do as adults,” said Pat Arndt, communications and outreach manager for the Parks and Trails Division. “If parents didn’t grow up camping or fishing or snowshoeing, they might not know how to get started with their own kids. Our naturalists and Naturalist Corps are there to help.”

New programs ranging from geocaching to digital photography to a series of skill-building programs, such as “I Can Camp” and “I Can Climb!”  are getting people outdoors in growing numbers and helping to inspire a new generation of outdoor kids.

Participation in interpretive programs totaled 285,620 in 2012, a 37 percent increase since 2008, the year before Legacy funding became available. Legacy-funded programs accounted for 140,614 of those participants – nearly half of the total – in 2012.

Interest in the Legacy-funded “I Can!” programs has been especially strong, underscoring the demand for programs that teach basic outdoor skills to beginners. A total of 877 people participated in the overnight I Can Camp! programs in 2012 (up 51 percent since the programs were first offered in 2010), 650 participated in I Can Climb! (up from 562 in 2011) and 260 participated in I Can Paddle! (up from 166 in 2011).

Each region within the state now has archery equipment, purchased with Legacy money. Trained Parks and Trails Division staff can reserve the equipment for Archery in the Parks programs. These programs have proven to be very popular, reaching 8,278 participants during 104 events in 2012, a 46 percent increase from 2011.

 “I am really excited about how the Legacy funding has allowed me to get more people out paddling the Minnesota River and tributaries,” said Scott Kudelka, a Parks and Trails Division naturalist who has been doing outreach in the Mankato area. “There is something special about someone who has never been in a canoe before mastering the finer techniques of paddling a river and learning something about its historical, cultural and natural characteristics. Legacy funding has also allowed us to form successful partnerships with a variety of nonprofit organizations, including the New Ulm River Rangers and Minnesota River Valley History Center at Morton to provide a wide range of hands-on education programs for children.”

Find more information about the Minnesota Naturalist Corps. For a list of upcoming programs at Minnesota state parks and trails, visit www.mndnr.gov or contact the DNR Information Center at info.dnr@state.mn.us, 651-296-6157, or toll-free 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The programs were funded from the Parks and Trails Fund, created after voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in November 2008. The Parks and Trails Fund receives 14.25 percent of the sales tax revenue and may only be spent to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance.

For more information on the Legacy Amendment, visit www.mndnr.gov/legacy.