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Guest commentary: It’s time for fall, enjoy the outdoor show

By Sarah Strommen

Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Minnesota’s seasons can change quickly. It often seems that just when you get settled into a summer routine, summer ends. That was doubly true this year.

COVID kept me closer to home this summer. My family and I got to know the parks, trails, and waters near our house. And instead of our usual out-of-state summer trip, we opted for a Minnesota staycation this year. We spent time biking, fishing and walking dogs on Minnesota public lands and waters—and we weren’t alone. It seems the pandemic encouraged Minnesotans everywhere to get outside. We waved to neighbors on normally vacant trails, watched families exploring Minnesota parks, and swapped quick fishing reports with other anglers on the lake.

I’d like to think so many of us turned to the outdoors because celebrating Minnesota’s natural beauty is an innate part of who we are. It’s where we instinctively go to recharge and revive ourselves. And if ever we needed a recharge, this summer certainly was it.

As summer’s days grow shorter and cooler, it’s clear we’re not ready to head indoors—unless, of course, “indoors” is a tent or a camper cabin. Campgrounds are still buzzing with activity, fishing license sales are up, and trails continue to draw hikers, bikers, and bird watchers.

That’s probably because fall may be Minnesota’s best season, offering its own unique options for outdoor activities.

With the summer crowds gone, fall fishing is hard to beat. In my house, fall is time to bring out the big gear and search for muskies. We enjoy fishing the quiet lakes and watching the loons prepare for their upcoming journey. Crisp fall nights also are wonderful for camping. This is the perfect time of year to stay in one of the many camper cabins the DNR has available at state parks throughout Minnesota—they’re warm on chilly nights, but still offer a great camping adventure. If a more rustic camping experience is your thing, our state forest campgrounds have first-come, first-serve sites. Download a geo-PDF map of the forest to your cell phone and you can roam to your heart’s content and never get lost.

Of course, you might want to get a little lost in the splendor of fall color. Hiking, biking and bird watching amongst trees dressed in reds, golds and yellows is a great way to spend a fall day. If you’re looking for new places to watch the fall color show, the DNR’s webpage (mndnr.gov/fallcolor) has you covered with a Fall Color Finder Map, updates from each state park (including suggestions for things to do in addition to looking at leaves), fall color forest drives, and even a fall color email alert.

And then there’s hunting. I’m always cautious about promising good hunting—I don’t want to jinx anyone, especially myself—but I’m encouraged with prospects for deer hunting in many parts of the state. The same goes for pheasants: spring nesting conditions were good and August roadside counts were up. For most hunters, even the slightest positive sign is enough to get us planning our next outing in the woods and fields. If you’ve never been hunting, but have an inkling to try, I encourage you to get some training, perhaps find a mentor and give it go this year. The DNR’s Learn to Hunt web page (mndnr.gov/gohunting) has how-to guides and even virtual hunting classes to get you started. The site can also connect you with hunting opportunities for youth, women, and those with physical challenges.

No matter how you choose to get outdoors as the summer slips into fall, I would encourage you to #BeGoodNATUREd. As more people connect with and enjoy the outdoors through hiking, ATV riding, hunting, camping, fishing and other outdoor activities, let’s celebrate the fact that we have more people loving Minnesota’s great outdoors and make room for everyone. Model good outdoors etiquette. Lend a hand. Leave no trace. Show that Minnesota’s public lands are open and welcoming to all—and all of us must care for them.

The pandemic has changed many things for most of us. But what it hasn’t changed—in fact, what it has highlighted—is our love of the outdoors and our need to connect with nature. So let’s not mourn the passing of summer. Instead, let’s be thankful that in Minnesota we get to experience all four seasons and the outdoor opportunities each offers. Get out your flannel and your blaze orange, it’s time for fall.…and save a little time to plan for the exciting outdoor activities yet to come this winter!

Sarah Strommen is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This fall, you’ll find her and her family on the water, in the woods or on the trail.