ELBA, Minn. (AP) — Think of it as thinking outside the park.

To get more people interested in nature and outdoor recreation, state parks are going to accelerate not only what is done inside parks but also outside park boundaries.

As with other outdoor recreation, such as hunting and fishing, interest in parks is waning, according to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources draft 10-year plan for state parks and trails.

Brent Anderson, the new manager of Whitewater State Park near Elba, says young people seem content to stay inside and play electronic games or be on the Internet. Essentially, outdoor recreation has skipped a generation, and the DNR wants to revive it.

Though the problem has been evident for years, shrinking budgets have limited the outreach done by DNR naturalists.

That changed in November 2008, when Minnesota voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which increased the state sales tax. Much of that money goes to fish and wildlife and clean water, but a chunk also is headed to parks and trails.

“It’s going to help us plan a little bit better for the future,” Anderson said. Before, the parks never knew from year to year what kind of money would be available. Now that the parks have a steadier and larger source of revenue, the DNR is thinking big. But to get there, a lot of little things need to be done.

Anderson said he’s able to take care of things many people don’t see, such as replacing 91-year-old water lines and putting in new fire rings and picnic tables.

Another is a new kiosk at the entrance to Carley State Park, which is managed by the staff at Whitewater. The new kiosk has information about Carley and for parks statewide and a place for campers to self-register.

“It’s an improvement to the park,” Anderson said.

Other projects have to do with getting people directly into nature.

The park now offers devices for geocaching, which uses GPS to find hidden treasures. People in their early teens love it, Anderson said, and they take their parents with them into the woods.

DNR parks and trails are combining into one division, so naturalists at local parks will now be more active on trails, said Dave Palmquist, a Whitewater naturalist. He’s helping to set up naturalist programs for users of the Root River State Trail in Fillmore and Houston counties.

Palmquist said he’s able to think bigger because he’s getting more summer interns to do programs, including more during the week and on Sundays, something he seldom did before.

Another way to get naturalists out of the park is to take people canoeing or kayaking on Weaver Bottoms, a large Mississippi River backwater.

Palmquist also sees a big demand for DNR naturalists to present programs for schools and youth groups.

“That would be a very healthy direction for us to go,” Palmquist said.

Rochester Post-Bulletin

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