In July 2005 Randy Mathisen began his 8,000-mile journey on his Softail Deluxe Harley Davidson motorcycle to visit all 72 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas as a Passport Club member. Besides his motorcycle, his only companion was the Minnesota State Park Passport Club kit, which contains a club notebook, traveler's log, and state map.
"Sometimes I got up in the morning and rode until dark, driving 700 or more miles a day," he said. "But I drove through [the parks] to make sure I saw them all."
Minnesota state parks founded the Passport Club in 1984 as a challenge for park visitors. From Afton to Zippel Bay, every state park office has a park stamp and pad for club members to mark their passport booklet. The traveler's log gives members a place to record highlights from every visit.
Amy Barrett, her husband, and their three boys completed the Passport Club in seven years, filling their traveler's log with discoveries of new parks and sightings of insectivorous plants, cormorants, and red-tailed hawks. "It was really fun to discover places like Zippel Bay and smaller parks like Lake Shetek," says Barrett. "We had no idea how beautiful these parks were."
For a greater challenge to travelers, state parks also offers the Hiking Club. Members of this club receive a booklet with trail descriptions for nearly 200 miles of hiking, as well as a state map and hip pack. Passwords are posted on signs deep in state parks along designated trails. Members write the passwords in their booklets as proof of the trails they hiked.
As a member of both clubs, Roger Werner of Duluth has traveled to every state park four times. His children and grandchildren often join him on hikes and park visits. According to Werner, the clubs sparked his family's interest in going beyond the parks close to home and exploring more of each park. In 2006 he began his fifth passport booklet and third hiking booklet.
"Often people find little gems that without the clubs they would have never found," says Pat Arndt, DNR Parks public affairs manager. For example, park gems might include the bison herd at Blue Mounds, the mountain bike trail at Camden, migrating songbirds at Beaver Creek Valley, or Devil's Kettle waterfalls at Judge C.R. Magney.
After visiting 32 parks or hiking 100 miles, the clubs' members get a reward -- a free night of camping. Upon completing the Passport or Hiking Club challenges, members receive a personalized plaque honoring their achievement, a patch to sew onto clothing, and another free night of camping.
Since 1984 state parks have sold more than 8,000 Passport Club memberships, and 1,391 members have completed their challenge kits. Of about 1,500 Hiking Club kits sold, 365 members have trekked almost 71,000 miles to complete their kits. To join a parks club, visit any state park office or call 888-646-6367. For more information, go to www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/clubs.html.
Megan Nelson, editorial intern