ST PAUL, Minn. — If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of COVID-19, one would be the rediscovery of Minnesota's beloved outdoor spaces to relax, recreate, and find adventure.
And if you're one of those who would love to try an outdoor activity but don't have the gear or experience, don't sweat it: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has you covered.
After a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic, the DNR is re-launching its award-winning "I Can" program series that helps beginners of all age groups learn new outdoor skills while visiting a state park or recreation area.
Here are some of the options, with registration starting May 3:
- I Can Camp! – This program provides hands-on instruction on setting up camp, starting a campfire, camp cooking and other activities to do at Minnesota state parks. All gear is provided including tent, air mattresses, cooking gear and other basic camp equipment. One-night, two-night and backpacking programs are available, or you can opt for a two hour mini session.
- I Can Paddle! – This program teaches the basics of canoeing or kayaking, including launching, efficient paddling and planning a safe outing. Programs are designed for first-time paddlers, and all equipment is provided. Two-hour canoe or kayak programs are available, as well as a one-night canoe camping program.
- I Can Mountain Bike! – This program teaches mountain bike riding techniques at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, Minnesota’s world class mountain bike destination. Mountain bikes and helmets are provided.
- I Can Hike! – This new program provides two-hour hiking sessions to teach people how to safely and comfortably enjoy the outdoors. No experience or specialized gear is necessary, and each program has a longer and shorter distance option to match comfort and ability levels.
Costs for each activity vary.
“We provide all the gear for our 'I Can!' Programs, along with friendly instructors who can show you how to use it,” said Erika Rivers, director of Minnesota State Parks and Trails. “Our goal is to make it easy for all Minnesotans to get outdoors, have fun and enjoy the health and wellness benefits of nature.”
To sign up for an "I Can" program, visit the DNR website or call 866-857-2757 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. The DNR says because the health and safety of participants is the agency's top priority, they are closely monitoring the latest COVID data and will adjust programming accordingly. They promise all equipment will be fully sanitized before it is used.
Those participating will have to be free of COVID symptoms, maintain social distance between anyone who is not a household member, wear a mask or face covering in a group setting if social distancing is not consistently possible, and not share a campsite or equipment with someone from another household.
Since 2010, nearly 100,000 people have participated in I Can! programs.