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By Howard Lestrud
ECM Online Managing Editor

Minnesota residents can indeed proudly lay claim to living in God’s Country. Minnesota definitely possesses some of the most fertile land in the country and also displaying some of the most beautiful lake scenery to be found anywhere.

With Memorial Weekend just behind us, we look to the coming summer months as a time to sample some of the prettiest state parks in the nation.  The Minnesota State Park system consists of 66 state parks, six state recreation areas, eight state waysides, 19 state trails, and 54 state forest campgrounds and day use areas, totaling approximately 267,000 acres.

To learn more about the history of our Minnesota park system, go to Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Minnesota_state_parks

Wikipedia says a Minnesota state park is an area of land in the U.S. state of Minnesota preserved by the state for its natural, historic, or other resources. Each park was created by an act of the Minnesota Legislature and is maintained by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The Minnesota Historical Society operates sites within some of them. The park system began in 1891 with Itasca State Park when a state law was adopted to “maintain intact, forever, a limited quantity of the domain of this commonwealth...in a state of nature.”

Travel to the Wikipedia site and see a map of all of the state parks in Minnesota. Hold your computer cursor over locations to display the park name. If you click on the park name, you will be taken to a special Wikipedia page on your selected state park.

Let’s look at the Wild River State Park page on Wikipedia and see what it says:

Wild River State Park is a 6,803-acre (27.53 km) Minnesota state park curving along 18 miles (29 km) of the St. Croix River. The park is located near the small community of Almelund. This long, narrow park is shaped somewhat like a sideways ‘S’, with development largely concentrated in the lower third. The remote upper sections flank the mouth of a tributary called the Sunrise River. The park is named after the St. Croix’s designation as a National Wild and Scenic River.

Archaeological remains have been found in the park dating back 5000 years, but the majority of artifacts date from 1200-500 years ago. A village site from this time has been identified near the mouth of the Sunrise River. A fur trading post was built on top of the ancient village site in 1847. Together with a post established nearby in 1850, these were the last trading posts in the St. Croix Valley, and only operated for a few years.

The towns of Sunrise, Amador, and Almelund were founded in the 1850s. Land was also sold in the town of Nashua, which may have been a confidence trick. The town never existed except on paper and was in fact sited in a marsh.

In 1855 the federal government began building the Point Douglas to Superior Military Road. Although intended as a highway for troop movement, this route from Hastings, Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin was one of the first roads in the territory and attracted a flood of civilian and commercial traffic. 

When Minnesota achieved statehood in 1858, responsibility for the road devolved to the state, which did not have the funds to finish the project. Although very rough and in places incomplete, the road was still the best route north until railroads were built in 1870. Traces of the military road can still be seen here and in Banning State Park.

In addition to Nevers Dam, NSP had acquired much of the land on either side of the river. With the St. Croix Falls Dam completed in 1907, NSP had little further need for this property 11 miles (18 km) upstream. They discussed contributing the land to the state as early as the 1930s. 

However, it was the creation of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway in 1968 that finally prompted action by both parties. The main objection to the trade had always been that Chisago County would lose a sizeable amount of property tax income. Bills died twice in the Minnesota Legislature until the state park was finally authorized in 1973.

As a compromise the state agreed to pay the county a declining percentage of the lost tax revenue for 10 years. NSP donated 4,497 acres (18.20 km) and the value was matched by federal funds to buy land from other owners. The Nature Conservancy also assisted in acquiring property. Development began in 1976 and the park opened two years later. Originally called St. Croix Wild River State Park, the name was shortened to avoid confusion with St. Croix State Park.

Check out the DNR Web site
One of my favorite Web sites is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Web site.  Go to http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/  Check out our Minnesota state parks by going to http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/index.html

The parks pages at the DNR site are well organized to help you locate a Minnesota state park by map, by A-Z listing and by region. Follow links to these activities: programs & special events; teachers resources; camping;  lodging; tours;  geocaching; clubs and a section  just for kids.

Under the information category, find links to permits, reservations, fees, cancellations, rules and firewood restrictions.

In the More About Parks category, find links to podcasts, bird checklists, volunteering, division of Parks & Recreation and a recreation grid.

The podcasts are particularly interesting and give you information from interning in Minnesota state parks to finding out about things you might see along the trails in Minnesota state parks. A podcast by Retta James-Gasser, Park Naturalist, will tell you how to tell what the animal tracks are.  In another podcast, visit the 
Lake Bemidji bog and take along the podcast as a trail guide to what you see on your walk. Learn more about plans to develop the Lake Vermillion State Park. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten and Parks and Recreation Director Courtland Nelson provide background information about this proposed park.

Make sure to bookmark What’s new at Minnesota State Parks at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/whats_new.html  If you’re still hungering for more park experiences, sample some of the national parks available to visit in Minnesota. Go to http://home.nps.gov/applications/parksearch/state.cfm?st=MN

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