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With the gas prices nearing record highs a lot of you may want to think about a vacation that's a little closer to home. Our own state of Minnesota has a lot to offer in terms of things to see and do, especially when it comes to the outdoors. Camping is a great way to enjoy nature and see a lot of the wonderful things it has to offer.

I have said it many times that even if you haven’t camped before, it doesn’t cost a lot to get started and it’s a great way to spend some quality family time. I guess if I was to put together a starter kit for campers it would be pretty basic. Start with a tent, sleeping bags, some sort of cook stove and a few cooking and eating utensils. You’d also want a lantern and some camp chairs along with matches, a hatchet and a sharp knife. A good cooler for food is a must and you are pretty much ready for your first camping experience. Oh, did I mention some mosquito repellent?

You will want to have a campfire and of course no good campfire is complete without the making of s’mores. Roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a campfire is something that will always be enjoyed by kids of all ages. If you don’t have hot dog forks and there are plenty of trees and bushes around you can whittle your own. This actually makes the whole experience just a little more special.

It is against the law to transport firewood from one part of the state to another. This is a preventive measure to try and curb the spread of tree diseases. You will need to purchase your firewood from a DNR approved vendor. Most state parks and campgrounds have firewood available for you to purchase. If you purchase from an approved vendor be sure to keep the receipt. I know some folks that bring boxes of scrap wood from their home projects and use them for their campfires.

There are many campgrounds throughout the state for you to enjoy. If you like to fish like I do, there are many state parks and national forest campgrounds that offer reasonable rates for camping with fishing access.

Surrounding this year’s Governor’s Fishing Opener in the Grand Rapids area are some of Minnesota’s most popular state parks, where anglers can wet their lines against backdrops that include scenic waterfalls, rocky shorelines and virgin pine forests.

Area highlights worth a side trip, include: to the west - Itasca State Park, where the Mississippi River begins its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico to the east - Gooseberry Falls State Park, where the waterfalls are spectacular and the Gooseberry River is stocked with rainbow trout to the north - Bear Head Lake State Park, voted America’s Favorite Park in an online contest sponsored by Coca-Cola in 2010 to the south - Cuyuga Country State Recreation Area, where 25 miles of single-track mountain bike trails opened this spring.

A change in state law made it possible for residents to fish without a license at most lakes within Minnesota state parks. Details about the free fishing, which went into effect in July 2009, can be found at www.mndnr.gov.

In addition to stocking Minnesota lakes and streams with fish, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also stocks 30 Minnesota state parks with fishing rods and tackle that they loan out free to visitors in hopes of luring new anglers to the sport.

In the northeast region, the free fishing kits, which include a pole and tackle, are available at Banning, Bear Head Lake, Jay Cooke, McCarthy Beach, St. Croix, Savanna Portage, Scenic, and Tettegouche state parks. Check out the complete list of where to find free loaner equipment (also including GPS units, binoculars and bird guides, and activities for kids) www.mndnr.gov/state_parks/free_fishing.html>online.

Beginning anglers of all ages can learn basic skills at free I Can Fish! Workshops offered statewide throughout the summer. These hands-on workshops cover fish identification, casting, knot-tying, and more. Fishing gear is provided for use during the workshops, and fishing licenses are not required. Veteran anglers demonstrate skills and then give participants plenty of time to practice. Check out the Web site www.dnr.state.mn.us/events/index.html>onlinecalendar for a complete schedule.

For more information on what there is to see and do at Minnesota state parks in the northeast region, visit the Web site  www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/index.html>mndnr.gov/state_parks or call the DNR Information Center, 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The free fishing offer is one that the state and the DNR has initiated to try and get people “hooked on fishing” and believe me it is a great opportunity to try it out.

Until next time; let’s do a little camping and fishing because it’s a great time to get out and enjoy the great Minnesota outdoors!

Remember our brothers and sisters who are proudly serving our country so that we can keep enjoying the freedoms that we have today.

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