The memories came in small waves, not unlike those that lapped at the slippery rocks around me more than three decades ago. I'm not sure if I ventured all the way across the rocks on that day. Facts like that have a way of falling between the cracks and crevasses of time. But I didn't forget the rocks. Or that spot.
I went back there three years ago. Had to, I thought. Before the memory completely washed away.
The virtual tour of Itasca State Park includes, of course, footage of the headwaters experience.
And that would be unfortunate.
Like many Minnesotans and Minnesota visitors, I experienced Itasca State Park and the Mississippi headwaters as a child. Then, as sometimes happens, I left my home state, not to return for decades.
But now, it turns out, you don't have to visit Itasca to get a life-like tour of the headwaters. Or the swimming beach. Or even the bike trail and the place that rents bikes.
Fall colors updates
Minnesotans may follow the changing fall colors online this autumn at the DNR's Web site at www.mnstateparks.info.
Fall color information may be accessed from the Minnesota state parks home page by clicking on the link to "fall color reports" in the green box at the top. Reports provide details about fall colors at state parks in five geographic areas.
The reports are updated every Thursday throughout the fall color season.
That's not the premise behind the DNR's pilot project - virtual tours of four Minnesota state parks. But in the cyber world, such can serve as soothing fodder for the homesick. In an excerpt from the DNR's online survey on the new virtual tours, one online visitor said, "I loved it. Lived in Montana for a few years and would visit your Web site, especially in the fall months, whenever I needed to feel closer to home."
Now, virtual tours of two state parks just down the road from the Brainerd lakes area - Itasca and Jay Cooke - as well as Minneopa and Soudan Underground Mine state parks may be viewed by clicking the virtual tours link at www.mnstateparks.info. Additional virtual tours of other state parks as well as state recreation areas and state trails are expected to be added in the coming year. The online survey also is available at the site.
"It's like moving postcards. It's the teaser to get them to come for the real thing," said Connie Cox, park naturalist at Itasca. "Some had maybe been there (to state parks), but it had been a while. They'll say, 'Oh yeah, I was there.' That excitement is there. I was a little surprised by the reactions - at how it brought back that enthusiasm even for those who had been there before."
The pilot project was a result of research showing that the "next generation" (under age 50) would find virtual tours helpful for trip planning. The Soudan Underground Mine virtual tour is a YouTube-style video and the other three feature panoramic photos. All four virtual tours include an accessible version for Web site visitors with visual disabilities or low-speed Internet connections.
"We'll maybe have another dozen if not more by spring of next year and the ultimate goal will be to have all the parks and recreation areas and state water trails and land trails, so people can see, say, what the Heartland Trail looks like. ... The flavor of it and what to expect," said Pat Arndt, Minnesota state parks planning and public affairs manager. "There's just so much beauty out there and we want people to see that. It's not a replacement experience. It's supposed to give them reasons to go outdoors."
The Itasca virtual experience features tours of the headwaters, the headwaters monument, the swimming beach, the boat dock and access, Park Drive and the bike trail and rentals. At Jay Cooke, online visitors can experience the ranger station, bike trail, river gorge and two views of Oldenburg Point. The virtual tours of both parks include overview maps to give tour-goers an idea of where the site they're seeing is located in the park.
"I think it's a good start," said Chris Hiller, park naturalist at Jay Cooke. "I've been personally beating the drum so to speak that we need to get involved in this sort of thing. We've realized that more and more people are using the computer for vacation planning."
Amy Barrett, public information officer for the division of parks and trails, who spearheaded the project, said there are plans to add more virtual tours yet this fall.
"People seem to appreciate the interactiveness," Barrett said. "It's a lot more of what you can expect to see and do at parks. At Jay Cooke and Itasca, you can see a variety of places where you can stay overnight, where there's a trail, and if you don't have a bike, where you can rent one, and you can see the beach. You get a clear idea of what your vacation will be like if you go there. It's not a case of just taking our word for it. You can take a look: Here's what we have to offer. We hope it won't replace coming, that you'll get curious enough to come see what you're seeing online in person.
"Jay Cooke is a great gateway to the North Shore. And going to the headwaters is an experience every Minnesota family should have at some time."
BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at brian.peterson@ brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864.
Comment deadline Wednesday
If you camp in a state park, hunt in a state forest or bicycle in a state recreation area, the DNR would like to hear from you by Wednesday.
The DNR also hopes to hear from geocachers, antler collectors and others who visit Minnesota state parks, state forests, state recreation areas and state waysides.
The DNR is considering new rules and rule amendments that address new and emerging recreational activities and technologies, from camping in camper cabins to skijouring to gathering certain edible plants for personal consumption.
Among other things, proposed rule changes would:
Provide for organized public activities.
Extend state park and recreation area hours of operation.
Change camping registration and campsite use requirements.
Permit seasonal lease of campsites.
Allow physically disabled persons to use electric mobility devices on park trails.
The proposals are posted on the DNR Web site at mndnr.gov (click on "public input," then "rulemaking," then "request for comments"). You are invited to suggest additional changes for the DNR to consider, too.
Send comments by e-mail to recreationrules@ dnr.state.mn.us, by mail to Recreation Rules Comments, Department of Natural Resources-Division of Parks and Trails, 500 Lafayette Rd., Box 39, St. Paul, MN 55155 or by fax to (651) 296-1157.
The public review and comment period is open until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. For more information, contact Jade Templin at (651) 259-5484, toll-free at (800) 657-3929 or at jade. email@example.com. mn.us.
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