The people issue 👩🏽 👱 🧑🏻 👨‍🦽

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parks and rec
Icons representing winter outdoor recreation. Text in the center reads "Trailblazer."

February 2024

Choose your adventure and do it your way

The ways to experience the outdoors are as diverse as the ecosystems in our beautiful state. Some do it through art, others through science. It can be about building community or solving access problems.

However you connect with nature, whoever you are, whatever your identity, you're welcome at Minnesota State Parks and Trails.

Section header reads "creative out(let)."

Donovan Dahmen, visual artist

Dahmen, an enrolled member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, finds spiritual connection to the land and his ancestors through hunting and fishing, and through creation of nature-inspired art. 

Illustration of a wolf.

Ma’ingan (wolf) in watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencils. COPYRIGHT: Donovan Dahmen. Below, Donovan posing with his art, a representation of the Spirit Tree, a sacred tree on the shores of Gichigami. PHOTO: Ivy Vainio.

As Anishinaabeg we're told in our traditional stories that ma’ingan (wolf) is our spiritual brother. He walked as a companion with Nanaboozhoo, our teacher, part man, part manidoo (spirit), when naming all the animals and the plants. In the time they spent together, their bond became so close that they would forever be connected spiritually. What happens to one, will happen to the other.

Our individual lives are similar, in that the well-being of both are dependent on the social aspects of the tribe or pack in relation to living in balance with nature. The wolf reminds us all of the significance of what it is to be wild and free.

I like the feeling I get when I'm in the process of creating art inspired by nature.

Man posing with his art, the Spirit Tree made out of wood.

I feel a connection to the subject I'm focusing on. If I'm drawing an animal, I feel as though I'm one with the animal spiritually. When I'm working with wood, I feel as though I am connecting to the spirit of the trees. In a sense, I'm listening to the spirit of nature to help guide me. When I'm creating, I believe I'm in prayer. I hope people who come across my art can have a similar experience.

Time in nature is healing for me, whether I'm out hunting deer, harvesting wild rice or simply observing. I think it's important to have access to public land to have these experiences. There's a medicine I forage that only grows in public land.

One of my favorite Minnesota state parks is Jay Cooke in Carlton. When I lived in Duluth, I often visited the park with my family during summer and fall. I didn't always have money to purchase a permit, though. Being a single parent while attending college, finances were often low. In those times, my park visits were short. 

Today, I'm glad the MN DNR has waived the vehicle permit fee for tribal members. This is in line with my cultural values and treaty rights in having access to my ancestral native lands. I still visit Jay Cooke State Park, nowadays with my grandkids.  

Man walking through field, the sun is shining through the clouds.

"I'm living life at my own pace," explains Dahmen. "Taking time to connect with nature, to create art in a thoughtful way, and heal as I experience both."

I would encourage other tribal members to use the tribal permit, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to use Minnesota public lands — there are many different trails and nature settings to accommodate whatever your activity level is or your interest in nature.

Follow Donovan Dahmen on Facebook to see more of his work.

Minnesota State Parks and Trails gift card designed by Spirit Lake Dakota artist Marlena Myles. Give the gift of adventure. Buy a gift card!Section header reads ''naturalist events." Icon shows a calendar with a star.

Mic Rice, a storyteller on the North Shore

Visitors at Gooseberry Falls or Split Rock Lighthouse state parks can learn from this dedicated naturalist, who's proud to share about wildlife that roam the land, the lava that flowed from the Earth's center and set to form the bedrock and, of course, the waterfalls and great lake.  

Naturalist in uniform holding book for story time at library.

While seeking ways to serve the public during my school years, I put my science knowledge to use as a volunteer naturalist at my college's arboretum. I later worked as a camp naturalist. These two experiences confirmed that a fulfilling career path for me had to include connecting people to nature.

Through the years, I found I have certain traits that are relevant for me as a naturalist: Natural (!) curiosity, love of nature, creativity and an adventurous spirit. I enjoy lifelong learning. I love the awe of visitors as they learn about our beautiful parks. I love igniting minds by talking about conservation issues. More than a job, being a naturalist is a lifestyle for me. 

Person in park uniform holding red leaves and posing by Gooseberry Falls State Park sign.

Beyond learning about nature, I strive to learn about different cultures, to make sure everyone feels welcome outdoors, especially traditionally underserved communities. As a queer person (I use they/she pronouns), I know there's judgement. At the same time, that means I'm in a great position to lead affinity groups and inspire young people to get into natural resources careers, whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation. Representation matters! 

You too can be an outdoor ambassador 


Minnesota's natural world and access to natural spaces is pretty unique. From a wide variety of mammals (including some of the largest in the lower 48) and the many trees, to the abundant water and fascinating geology, there's a lot to discover in our state's public lands. Get out and explore. Visit new places and try new activities. Introduce others to Minnesota State Parks and Trails, or bring them to one of my programs.

Visit and bookmark to stay up to date on all naturalist events at Minnesota state parks and recreation areas. 

Explore. Get rewards. Join the club! Minnesota State Parks and Trails Passport Club.

Section header in green reads "Out & about." Icon shows a person with a walking stick and a backpack.

Reyna López, a biking queen in Minnesota

Hailing from Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, Reyna has been living and biking in Minnesota for over three years. She's a bike advocate who builds community by leading rides and connecting people to outdoor spaces.

Woman on bike on paved trail. She's wearing a blue biking outfit and smiling and giving two thumbs up to the camera.

Reyna's motto: "Comprar una bicicleta 🚲 es la mejor inversión para tu propia felicidad ❤️"

Although I practice many different outdoor sports, including hiking, snowshoeing and skiing, I'm partial to biking. I love riding mountain bike trails as well as paved trails and roads, and I've even dabbled in bike packing.

Two cyclists on a bridge on a trail.

With my bike, I can get to places that I wouldn't otherwise be able to access. Knowing my legs are the engine that allows me to reach new wonderful places is the biggest motivation for me. The biking infrastructure in Minnesota is developed enough that I can connect to hundreds of miles of trails and protected bike routes from my home in St. Paul. 

I would love to see more Latinos on the trails. I would love to see more Latinos representing our community in all the different outdoor recreation in Minnesota, like hiking, biking, snowshoeing, kayaking and skiing. Many of us come to the United States looking to live the “American dream.” That should also include enjoying where we live, discovering natural spaces and all the health benefits we can reap from being outside.

If you want to try a new activity and don’t know where to start, find groups that have outings for beginners. There are a number of affinity programs, where you can connect with other Latinos. Joining a group can be a great incentive and can help build confidence while learning a new sport. It's a great way to build community, a particularly important aspect for new Americans. 

Reyna is a volunteer board member with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota.

Find a state trail near you to roll on your bike or wheelchair, or walk with a dog or a friend.

Mason Branstrator, problem-solver

An accident that left this young man paralyzed from the waist down was not about to stop him from playing outside.

Man on adaptive bike on paved trail, surrounded by green.

Branstrator's consistent and disciplined training allowed him to develop outstanding upper body strength, so he can independently add attachments to his wheelchair, unload his bike and even hop on a paddleboard.

I have always loved Minnesota state trails and parks for the opportunity they provide me to get outside. I have loved being immersed in nature since I was a little kid. Now, I love finding the trails that are accessible to me: I can roll on paved paths with my wheelchair or handcycle and I can go on gravel paths as long as they're at least 36 inches wide. 

Young man on wheelchair on a trail, in the woods.

Since becoming paralyzed, going outdoors is an opportunity for problem solving. I always have to find new ways to do things and get around, and I have learned to enjoy the challenge. I can no longer just walk into the woods in my backyard, as I used to. Each experience of being surrounded by nature is much more special because it takes a lot more to make it happen now, often needing other people and adaptive equipment. Being in a wheelchair and surrounded by nothing but trees is truly a wonderful experience.

I feel blessed to have found Northland Adaptive Recreation in the Duluth area. Thanks to this group, I've been able to go sailing and mountain biking — while paralyzed! I encourage you to find a group in your area and see what you can do.

If you use a wheelchair, or know someone who does, remember there are a number of new all-terrain track chairs available for use at state parks across Minnesota. The track chairs are there for us to use and experience the outdoors again. They provide the opportunity to discover park areas otherwise not accessible by wheelchair.

Follow @Mason_Branstrator to be inspired and learn more about how he finds ways to move around in nature, with or without adaptive equipment.

Young man sitting and paddling on a paddle board.
Section header reads "From the MCV archives" with an icon of an open magazine.

Revelations in chain link

Illustration of a young person walking towards the river on the other side of a chain link fence.

How a chance encounter with an ash tree restored my connection to the natural world. Full story.

Illustration by Michael Iver Jacobsen.

Minnesota Conservation Volunteer is a print magazine dedicated to Minnesota’s wild places and creatures. For more stories, visit or subscribe.