DNR News: Virtual meeting scenes, 'Flat Smokey' fire safety, Kal-Haven trail app

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News Digest - Week of May 25, 2020

the Mackinac Bridge lit up

Choose from a collection of scenic Michigan backgrounds for your next virtual call or meeting!

Some of the items in this week's news digest reflect the impact of COVID-19 and how the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is adapting to meet customers' needs. Public health and safety are our biggest priorities, and we will continue to share news and information about the safest, and sometimes new, ways to enjoy our state's natural and cultural resources.

Follow our COVID-19 response page for FAQs and updates on facilities and closures/cancellations and stay up to date on the latest public health guidelines and news at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

Here's a look at some of this week's stories:

See other news releases, Showcasing the DNR stories, photos and other resources at Michigan.gov/DNRPressRoom.

PHOTO FOLDER: Larger, higher-res versions of the images used below, and others, are available in this folder.

Meet me in the forest … or park, or beach or archives

Tahquamenon Falls

Starry skies, rushing waterfalls, scenic landscapes and historic sites are yours to choose from in a new collection of virtual videoconferencing backgrounds created by the DNR. They’ll add some charm and beauty next time you’re meeting by screen with friends, family or colleagues.

“We’re excited to share this collection of scenic images, because we want to highlight some of the nature, history and wildlife that make Michigan unique,” said Rachel Coale, a communications specialist with the DNR Forest Resources Division.

Browse the gallery, which is available at Michigan.gov/DNRPressRoom in the Photos and Videos section.

In addition to being beautiful, virtual backgrounds serve a practical purpose. When meeting online with people outside your immediate contacts, security experts recommended using virtual backgrounds to obscure details of your home and surroundings. Steps to enable and upload backgrounds in a Zoom account are available on the Zoom virtual background support page. The high-resolution images should be compatible with other virtual meeting platforms, too, and can be used as computer backgrounds.

Questions? Contact Beth Fults at 517-284-6071.

Discover Kal-Haven State Park Trail natural, cultural history with new app

screen shot of the Kal-Haven Trail State Park mobile app

Stretching 33 miles between Kalamazoo and South Haven in southwest Michigan, Kal-Haven Trail State Park rests on an abandoned railroad bed constructed in 1871. The converted rail-trail winds through gorgeous scenery including wooded areas, farmlands, streams and rivers. Now, a new tech tool adds the opportunity to explore the area’s natural and cultural history, too.

The Kal-Haven Heritage Trail mobile app uses geo-location to alert users about nearby heritage sites and provides text and images to share the stories. The app also offers increased accessibility with tags that allow screen readers to provide a description of images to people with impaired vision.

App users can learn about:

  • The native Potawatomi people who inhabited the area.
  • History of the Kalamazoo and South Haven Railroad route that existed from 1870 to 1970.
  • How glaciers sculpted the landscape.
  • Other heritage stories on topics like the Mentha mint farm, Joe Louis, the Bloomingdale oil boom and Julia Schelske, one of Ford Motor Company’s earliest female car dealers.

The app complements the 31 interpretive signs that were installed along the trail last summer. To get the app, android users can download it on Google Play, and Apple iPhone users can access it through a web browser at IWR.MSU.edu/KWT.

Anyone planning to visit Kal-Haven Trail State Park or any other state parks or trails is reminded to practice proper social distancing and follow other COVID-19 public health and safety guidelines.

Questions about the app? Contact Tobi Voigt at 517-898-6067.

‘Flat Smokey’ aims to raise fire safety awareness

colored Flat Smokey, a printable template of the classic Smokey Bear forest and fire safety icon

With warmer temperatures and increased fire danger, the DNR is getting a little help from a familiar face to boost the public’s fire safety smarts: Smokey Bear. But the department is sharing the 75-year-old icon in a new way – Flat Smokey!

Flat Smokey is inspired by the “Flat Stanley” children’s book series. In the books, a young boy is squashed flat by a falling bulletin board while sleeping, but he makes the best of his flatness and enjoys new adventures that include sliding under doors, flying as a kite and traveling cross-country in an envelope to visit friends.

Kids can experience Smokey in a different way, too. They can download the Flat Smokey template, print it on stiff paper like cardstock (or paste onto cardboard) and color. Take pictures and videos of family and friends practicing fire safety with cookouts, campfires, fireworks and more, and then share using the hashtags #FlatSmokey and #PreventWildfires. Share the fire safety fun by sending Flat Smokey in the mail to someone else.

Nine out of 10 wildfires in Michigan are caused by people. Taking simple precautions and using effective fire safety practices can save lives and protect property, wildlife and the environment. When burning, always have a water source, shovel and metal bucket nearby, never leave a fire unattended, and always thoroughly douse a fire until it is extinguished.

Get fire safety tips at Michigan.gov/PreventWildfires or contact Rachel Coale at 517-284-7269.

ICYMI: New mapping tool for local outdoor recreation

View from the back, hikers with backpacks spaced out along a trail at Wilderness State Park

As more sectors of Michigan's economy cautiously begin to reopen for business, state health officials urge the public to continue following guidelines that help slow the spread of the coronavirus. That means keeping social gatherings to no more than 10 people, limiting extensive travel and practicing social distancing – even when spending time outside. In case you missed it, the DNR recently announced a new online map that helps people find boating, fishing, hiking and other outdoor recreation opportunities close to home.

The Your Local Outdoors website is an easy-to-explore collection of state-managed outdoor recreation destinations: state parks, trails, boat launches and family-friendly fishing waters. Just enter your ZIP code and see all of the options that are just minutes away!


Ready to look for mushrooms? Before you go, visit our morel web page for hunting tips, identification help, maps and more.


Just a few days left (sales close June 1) to pick up your elk hunting and bear hunting applications! Drawing results will be posted online July 6.


Interested in supporting your favorite state park? Consider joining or starting a friends group. Learn more about how to start and run one. 

DNR COVID-19 RESPONSE: For details on affected DNR facilities and services, visit this webpage. Follow state actions and guidelines at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus.

Census 2020 - Be Counted