ST. PAUL -- A century ago, when the flu pandemic created worldwide chaos, people learned that sunshine was a great disinfectant, and getting outdoors was encouraged as a way to fight the virus. Much has changed in 100 years, but with a new coronavirus pandemic causing world-wide challenges, officials from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources feel that getting outside to a park is an excellent flu fighter.

“Now is a great time to get outdoors,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, in a statement noting that state parks, campgrounds, recreation areas and public lands remain open statewide. “Parks are a great place to do some social distancing and enjoy the health benefits of nature.”

But with the advice of state health officials, the DNR is also canceling or postponing a number of public events in an effort to reduce the number of people congregating and hopefully slow the spread of COVID-19. So while state parks are open for visitors, state park visitor centers, contact stations and other buildings are closed. Park admissions can be paid at self-pay stations, and visitors may purchase daily and yearly park passes online.

Within the parks, restroom facilities and shower buildings will remain open, and the DNR has pledged increased cleaning. State park naturalist programs are canceled until the department determines which, if any, of the programs are compatible with social distancing.

While the DNR remains open for business, they are also encouraging remote options which allow for social distance, such as purchasing and renewing licenses online, making camping reservations by phone and contacting the department’s information centers via email rather than in person. If you do visit a DNR office, the personnel there have been instructed to maintain a 6- to 10-foot distance, per department of health guidelines. The DNR website is www.dnr.state.mn.us.

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The postponement of several DNR events was also announced on Monday, including deer open houses, elk input meetings in northwest Minnesota, and all safety education training, including firearms safety training.

The latter is the 12-hour course on the safe and proper handling of firearms that must be completed in order to obtain a Minnesota firearms deer license. The classes are taught in the spring and the fall to children as young as 11, and they must show a certificate of completion in the course to obtain a deer hunting license

“My hope is that we will have time this summer to address any backlog of kids who can't take firearm safety now, so that no one who wants to hunt this fall is prevented from doing so,” said Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, which has done much to foster the next generation of hunters in the state amid declining numbers of hunters nationwide.

For additional information on the latest program cancellations and postponements, people may contact the DNR Information Center by phone at 651-296-6157 or 888-MINNDNR (646-6367) or by email at info.dnr@state.mn.us. Hours are 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Saturday.