By John Croman, KARE 11 News
Saint Paul, MN -- Minnesotans looking for ways to enjoy the summer on a budget will get a chance to try all of their home state's attractions at no charge this weekend.
The Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Historical Society are teaming up for a "summer sampler" Sunday, offering free admission to all 26 historic sites and 72 state parks.
First Lady Mary Pawlenty was on hand at Historic Fort Snelling in Saint Paul Friday to make the case for exploring the North Star State.
"I'm suggesting forget Disney World, skip past the Wisconsin Dells and explore Minnesota!" Mrs. Pawlenty remarked, "That's what you need to do this summer."
She said she never fully appreciated all that Minnesota has to offer in terms of vacation and day trip destinations until she became a mother. Every summer she mapped out summer trips to take with the children.
"And I love when I go on the web site and specifically the state parks each have a map, and within the map I find where are the picnic areas, where can I park and where can I park and where are the hiking trails and things I can do there with the children."
She said she'd be hard pressed to name a favorite child, and the same goes with the natural wonders they've traveled to around the Minnesota. She mentioned by name the Soudan Underground Mine, Split Rock Lighthouse, Whitewater State Park and the Mystery Cave in Forestville.
"I wonder how many Minnesotans know these cool caves that are down in Southeast Minnesota. They're amazing but you've got to get online, figure out where the park is, get down there and explore."
Visitors will receive Cub canvass grocery bags full of information on places waiting to be discovered, including a pamphlet on summer events that is surprisingly useful even in the digital age.
"We found that this is really the connection for getting people to come visit a park who aren't used to coming," DNR state parks director Courtland Nelson told reporters, "People who want to know what is there to do with my kids? What is there to do with the grandkids?"
If the "stay-cation" push truly catches on this summer it could help soften the blow from state funding cuts the Minnesota Historical Society expects as Governor Pawlenty begins to selectively "unallot" agency budgets in order to balance the books.
"State funding levels are being cut so we're facing that on top of the shortfall from the economy," historical society marketing director Lory Sutton told KARE.
Two thirds of the MNHS budget comes from state government, and staff members are already taking unpaid furlough days to offset the effects of cutbacks during the current fiscal cycle.
"Times are tough and what we have right here in Minnesota is 26 fabulous historic sites and museums many people have never even visited before," Sutton said, "And it's our hope that you'll stop by, that you'll fall in love with history all over again, and want to come back all year long."