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Following the success of last year’s Free Park Friday, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith is encouraging all Minnesotans to include outdoor activity as part of their family festivities over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. As added incentive, Smith announced that entry fees at all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas will be waived on Friday, Nov. 25.   

We are lucky here in the Albert Lea area in that we have a beautiful state park, Helmer Myre-Big Island State Park, which is located on the northeast side of Albert Lea Lake. It has campsites along with an abundance of nature trails where there is always a chance of spotting wildlife just about anywhere. Sakatah State Park near Waterville is another beautiful park worth checking out with paved nature trails, camping and picnic areas which rests on Lake Sakatah which is a natural widening of the Cannon River.

Smith, who has set a goal of visiting all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas, said she intends to work another state park visit into her schedule on Free Park Friday.

“In my travels around Minnesota, I visit Minnesota state parks and recreation areas as often as I can,” she said. “We have one of the finest park and trail systems in the country, and spending time in nature is the best way I know to get some exercise, relax and refresh with family and friends. I want as many Minnesotans as possible to enjoy a free day in the parks after Thanksgiving.”

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Minnesota state parks and trails system. The celebration has brought record crowds out to explore Minnesota’s most beautiful locations. Through the end of September, one-day parks and trails permit sales were up 6 percent, year-round permit sales were up 8 percent and overnight stays were up 6 percent over last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

“As a way to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of Minnesota state parks and trails, we’re encouraging visitors to see if they can go a total of 125 miles by bike, boot or boat by the end of 2016,” said Erika Rivers, director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division. “Free Park Friday will provide an opportunity to add to your mileage, whether you’re near the end of the challenge or just getting started.”

Those who log 125 miles will receive a limited-edition sticker and can post their photo  at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

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.

In addition to hiking a favorite park, visitors and families can participate in naturalist-led programs, search for wildlife and even participate in the DNR’s “Call of the Wildflowers” geocaching adventure.

To learn more about Minnesota’s 75 state parks and trails and to plan your “Free Park Friday” trip, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks.

For more information, visit www.mndnr.gov/freeparkfriday.

With all of the parks that we have available for our enjoyment in this area of the state we should never run out of places to go to enjoy some quality time in the outdoors. Just a couple of weeks ago our family visited White’s Woods park on Lower Twin Lake. We enjoyed a nice picnic and afterwards a friendly game of touch football. This is a very nice park with walking trails that take you back through the woods to enjoy nature at its finest and a chance to observe wildlife up close and personal. What a way to spend a nice sunny fall afternoon!

This is just one of many such parks in our area and if you venture just a little further to the north the Ellendale and New Richland areas have two nice parks; one is situated on St. Olaf Lake a little north and east of New Richland. The other is Beaver Lake which is a little northwest of Ellendale. Both parks have pavilions and offer fishing piers along with swimming beaches for summer enjoyment. The way that our weather has been this fall a picnic is not out of the question.

Edgewater Park on Fountain Lake in Albert Lea is one of the many nice parks that we have in and around Albert Lea. It’s a great place to visit for a picnic or to wet a line if you so desire.

Until next time; get out to one of our area parks and enjoy spending a little time bonding with nature. Don’t forget that there is still a lot of good fishing ahead before the water hardens.

Please take some time to honor those that have sacrificed so much for the freedoms that we enjoy today. Take a little time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who served and those troops that are serving today.

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