Close to Home: the Joy of State Parks

Big Manitou Falls: 165 ft. high. At Pattison State Park, Wisconsin

As I write this blog, our country is beginning to swim towards the surface and hoping for a breath of fresh air from the devastating COVID pandemic that has kept us quarantined for months.  The vaccinations are beginning to roll out and, most folks anyway, are hopeful.  I actually have begun to peruse the internet with ideas for travel destinations and even airfares….when we get to that point.  It has been hard to travel, but soon we hope to be getting out and about again. Yet, even before we start flying again, what better way to ease back into enjoying the great outdoors then with the close proximity of a state park.

Every state operates their park system differently, however almost every state in the country takes great pride in showcasing the beautiful places within their state. It’s amazing that in the United States there are close to 7,000 state parks. In my home state of Wisconsin there are 43. Since I live very close to the border of Minnesota, I also have access to several Minnesota parks in very close proximity. The state of Minnesota currently has 75 state parks. Luckily we don’t need a passport to cross state borders, and many Parks are enjoyed by both Wisconsinites and Minnesotans.

Since I now am a Wisconsinite, after living in the Land of Lincoln for 30 some years…I have found a certain pride in my state, especially when it comes to our State park system. The parks are managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Just like the national parks, the state parks frequently have different designations including forest, prairies and wildlife preserves. The Wisconsin DNR manages 116 state “units”. Included in this number are not only the state parks, but miles of trails over a huge diversity of terrains. I have a handy little guide listing all the Parks and trails in the state and can hardly wait to get out there with a camera and my hiking stick. The guide is published by the DNR, but their website is very helpful in finding just the park and recreational pursuits you are looking for: Additionally, the Travel is a fun site for trip planning and just getting an arm chair view of where you might want to explore next:

Living in western Wisconsin ,on the border, there is an on going friendly “rivalry” between Green Bay Packer fans and Minnesota Vikings fans. Loyal football fans dedicated to their teams and the close proximity of the states provide a natural competition, but it almost always seems to be good-natured and part of the game that football fans play.  Those that want to discuss the game of football love to get together and share notes, no matter what side of the border you are on.  The same can also be said of the scenic parks that are available in our region, except it’s really not a “competition” when it comes to enjoying all that the north-woods has to offer. Those that love the great outdoors seek out trips to the nearby parks, in both states.

River gorge: The “Dalles of the St. Croix River”

Probably the most obvious example of this mutual admiration is Interstate Park. Located on the St. Croix River, both Minnesota and Wisconsin have a Park with that same name: Interstate Park. The Parks share a common border, but are managed separately by their respective states.  In 1895, the Minnesota Interstate Park was established to help preserve the scenic beauty and geologic wonders found in the area. Wisconsin followed suit in 1900 by establishing Interstate Park at the southern edge of St. Croix Falls, directly across from the Minnesota Park.  Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is the oldest established Park in the state.  When originally conceived in the early 1900’s , the Parks were run with a certain degree of reciprocity between the two states.  However, with changes in administration of the Parks, after 2003 the Parks became independent of each other and are operated by their respective states. Even though the administration is separate, the ideology and shared vision of protecting this unique and beautiful glacial land is reciprocal. On the Wisconsin side, a portion of the park: The Ice Age Trail Scientific Reserve is run by both the state and federal agencies (National Park Service) and helps tell the amazing story of how the glaciers formed many areas in the state. The terrain and geology of the area is is so great to view, whether it be on a hike, a walk by the river, or a paddle boat ride through the steep sides of the gorge.

Paddle boat on the St. Croix River

There are an abundance of incredible state parks to explore, no matter where you live.  I have discovered that many popular destinations actually hold the title of “state park”. A perfect example is Niagara Falls in New York state. People generally just focus on admiring the falls, but it holds the unique title as being not only the oldest established (1885) Park in New York state, but the oldest state park in the United States. Pretty nifty, Huh? So in more ways than one, it truly is the Grand Daddy of stunning waterfalls.

As many readers of this blog know, in addition to exploration of state and local parks… I have a great love of our National Parks. I recently published a book on that topic entitled: “A Walk in the Park…Journey’s through our Nation’s Greatest Treasures”. It was published through Kindle Direct Publishing and is available on Amazon. The direct link is:…Journeys+through+our+Nation%27s+Treasures&qid=1611349971&sr=8-1

So wherever the path takes you, state parks or national parks, or perhaps just a walk around the block…I wish you pleasure on the journey. Put Your Traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

One thought on “Close to Home: the Joy of State Parks

  1. Lois Joy Hofmann January 23, 2021 / 12:07 am

    After all the National Parks I’ve visited, I still put the St.Croix Interstate Park near the top of my list. I may be prejudiced though. St. Croix Falls is my home town.


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