Michigan DNR education programs: Connecting people to the outdoors (videos)

In Michigan, you’re never more than an hour’s drive from a state park or recreation area.

As the millions of annual visitors to our state parks and recreation areas know, these places offer an abundance of ways to enjoy the outdoors – from hiking and biking to swimming and stargazing.

Perhaps lesser known is that, in most areas of the state, you’re not too far away from opportunities to discover more about the outdoors with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ nature and outdoor education programs.

The DNR’s 10 visitor centers around the state feature fun and educational nature exhibits, access to nearby trails and engaging outdoor experiences with professional interpreters that lead nature-oriented programs.

In 2016, nearly 400,000 visitors stopped in to one of the statewide visitor centers to take in exhibits, attend a program or experience a trail hike, said DNR education services manager Kevin Frailey.

At Ludington State Park, along Lake Michigan in the northern Lower Peninsula, interpretive programming dates back to 1969 and over the years has taught millions of visitors about the park’s rich history, as well as its variety of outdoor recreation opportunities.

In 2016, the DNR completed design and installation of new exhibits, focusing on Great Lakes ecology, at the recently renovated historic beach house at Ludington State Park.

The Hartwick Pines State Park Visitor Center in Grayling draws thousands of visitors, campers and school children each year to see one of Michigan’s last stands of majestic old-growth pine forest.

Visitors also flock there for the chance to see one of North America’s rarest birds, the Kirtland’s warbler, with tours held out of the visitor center in late spring and early summer.

While most visitors to Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the eastern Upper Peninsula come to see two of Michigan’s most beautiful waterfalls, park education programs help participants explore the park’s other natural features as well.

Other visitor centers include the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center at Mitchell State Park in Cadillac, the Eddy Discovery Center at Waterloo Recreation Area near Chelsea, the Gillette Visitor Center at Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, Oden State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center near Petoskey, Porcupine Mountains Visitor Center at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park near Ontonagon, the Saginaw Bay Visitor Center at Bay City State Recreation Area in Bay City and the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center in Mattawan.

In more than 40 Michigan state parks that do not have visitor centers, the DNR’s State Park Explorer Program offers educational and entertaining nature programs for park visitors.

More than 77,000 state park campers and visitors took part in the Explorer Program in the summer of 2016.

DNR education programs are helping Michigan citizens gain a better understanding of some of the issues facing natural resources managers, including invasive species.

Last year, all DNR visitor centers installed a three-dimensional Asian long-horned beetle exhibit complete with an interactive game.

Nearly all the visitor centers also have installed aquariums and use live sea lamprey to educate the public about the impact of these non-native invaders.

The DNR education staff hopes to arm visitor center attendees and program participants with the knowledge to help combat some of the threats to Michigan’s natural resources.

Another DNR education objective is for visitors and program participants to discover that outdoor recreation and use of our natural resources is fun and healthy for all ages and abilities.

In addition to the nature-based recreation programming regularly offered at the visitor centers and state parks, for those looking to take a step beyond an introduction to outdoor recreation, the DNR offers the Outdoor Skills Academy.

These popular classes, which began at the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center in Cadillac and recently expanded to other visitor center locations around the state, offer expert instruction, gear and hands-on learning for a range of outdoor activities, from hunting and fishing to hiking, birding and more.

Find more information on DNR nature and outdoor education programs at michigan.gov/dnreducation.

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