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Flock to Minnesota state parks and trails for an avian adventure after Turkey Day

by Scott Hanson

Minnesota state parks and trails have lots of suggestions on how to work birds into Thanksgiving weekend — and they’re not just talking turkeys. There are avian-themed geocaches waiting to be found in the woods, free birding kits waiting to be checked out at park offices and scenic trails for hikers.

“There is a Minnesota state park or trail within 30 miles of almost spot in the state,” said Courtland Nelson, Parks and Trails Division director at the Department of Natural Resources. “So no matter where you live or celebrate Thanksgiving, nature and outdoor recreation opportunities are always close by. This is a great time of year to go hiking, because now that the leaves have fallen from the trees, it’s easier to see birds, deer and other wildlife.”

Geocaching combines hiking with treasure hunting. With the help of a GPS unit, visitors can search for hidden treasures — or cache containers — in all 76 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas and on the Root River State Trail. Inside the containers are collectible bird cards with fun facts about a feathered friend that can be found in the area. Several parks loan GPS units to visitors. For more information, visit www.mndnr.gov (www.dnr.state.mn.us/geocaching).

Turkeys might actually be at the gate to greet anyone who shows up for the “Walk It Off! Post-Thanksgiving Day Nature Hike” from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29 at Fort Snelling State Park in St. Paul.

“Meet at the visitor center, and we’ll wander through the park exploring animal signs and work off some of our Thanksgiving Day treats,” said Park Naturalist Krista Jensen. For directions to the park and other information, visit www.mndnr.gov

Minnesota state parks are open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and feature more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails through the state’s hardwoods, prairies and pinelands. A Hiking Club (which you can join for a fee) provides members with opportunities to earn patches and other incentives as their total mileage accumulates.

Tips for anyone planning to take a hike include:

  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Dress in layers in case of sudden changes in weather.
  • Pick up a trail map at the park office (or print one from the website before you leave).
  • Tuck a water bottle and healthy snacks in pockets or waist pack.
  • Wear blaze orange if hiking at a park where hunting may be taking place.

Sibley State Park will be closed for a resource management deer hunt Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. All other Minnesota state parks and recreation areas will be open to the public, but hunting may be allowed in some areas. Find out where and when access may be limited at www.mndnr.gov (www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/hunting.html).

Bring binoculars and guide books to help identify any wildlife along the trail. Most state parks have birding kits visitors can use for free while at the park. The kits include binoculars, bird books and a checklist of birds that can be seen in the park. Bird checklists also are available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov(www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/birdchecklists.html).

State Park Gift Cards 
Get some holiday shopping done by purchasing Minnesota state parks gift cards. Cards can be redeemed for vehicle permits, campsites, camper cabins, and rental equipment, such as snowshoes. They also can be redeemed for the apparel, outdoor-related books and other items sold at Minnesota state parks. Gift cards can be purchased at Minnesota state parks and at the DNR Information Center, 500 Lafayette Road in St. Paul. Order the cards online at www.mndnr.gov/reservations or by calling 651-296-6157 or toll-free, 888-646-6367.