Senior Connections SeniorConnections_JanFeb20

Note to our readers: January/ February 2020 VOLUME 2 | NO. 1 Senior Connections HJ.COM This is a combined January/February issue. Grand Portage to Blue Mounds: Lester Prairie couple adventures through MN’s State Parks HEIDI MIRTH Staff Writer Brian and Jill Duncan were both raised in Minnesota; Jill, in Duluth, and Brian, in Minnetonka. But that doesn’t mean the state can’t still hold new experiences for them. In 2016, while hiking up a trail in Zippel Bay State Park, on the northern border of the state, Brian and Jill abruptly came face-to-face with three black bears. “They were about 30 feet away,” Jill said, and hadn’t seen the Duncans yet. “We said, we should let them know we’re here, be- cause they were getting a little close. So we just said, ‘Hi, Bears!’ and they were gone in the brush. That was a thrill,” Jill recalled fondly. The Duncans, who have lived in Lester Prairie for 33 years, both agree that this was one of their most exciting moments at a state park, which is saying a lot, as they have spent more time in state parks in the last few years than most people have in their entire lives. “Visiting the state parks is something we can do as a couple and enjoy together,” Jill said. The Duncans took up camping after their two daugh- ters married and moved away from home. “Being empty-nesters, we took the opportunity to get out and about in our camper, and we kind of got hooked,” Jill said. “Being out in the woods is a healing kind of thing. There’s just something about it; it feeds you and it heals you, and it’s a wonderful experience.” They started getting serious about camping in 2012, when they purchased their little pop-up camper, but it wasn’t until 2014 when “we really started in earnest to visit all the state parks.” That’s when they found out about the state park Pass- port Club. By paying a small fee, club members are able to start accumulating stamps in a “passport” booklet at each park they visit. The goal? To get a stamp from every park in the state. After obtaining 25 stamps, members are eligible for a free night of camping, along with other bonuses, but the perks aren’t what inspired the Duncans. Rather, it was the challenge itself that inspired the cou- ple, especially Jill, who has a self-proclaimed “problem” with checklists. “We started in 2014, and kind of went from there,” Jill said, and “by July of the next summer, we’d been to [all the parks].” That’s quite a feat, as there are 75 state parks in Min- nesota, and the Duncans didn’t just stop in to get their stamp and leave again. Instead, they made a point of do- ing something meaningful, to get to know each park, in- cluding picnics, hikes, and sometimes camping. Originally, “we would plan to camp at one park, and then make day visits to other parks in the vicinity,” Jill said, but once they’d accomplished the Passport Club, they came up with a new challenge. “We decided we were going to camp at every single park you can camp at,” Jill said. There are 61 state parks in Minnesota that allow drive- in camping, and as of this past summer, the Duncans have “camped at every one of those 61 state parks with our camper.” During this time, they set themselves yet another goal. “One year, we stayed overnight at a state park every month of the year,” Brian said. “Another one of [my] lists,” laughed Jill. Depending on the weather, the Duncans usually rent camper cabins when they visit parks in the winter months, which can add whole new experiences. One December, the couple camped in a wood-heated yurt at Afton State More ADVENTURES on Pg 2 Senior Connections Brian Duncan walks a Hiking Club trail at Lake Shetek PHOTO BY JILL DUNCAN State Park. is distributed to: Annandale | Buffalo | Cokato | Darwin | Dassel | Delano | Glencoe | Howard Lake | Hutchinson | Kimball | Lester Prairie Litchfi eld | Loretto | Maple Lake | Maple Plain | Mayer | Montrose | Mound | New Germany | Norwood Young America Rockford | Silver Lake | South Haven | St. Bonifacius | Waconia | Watertown | Waverly | Winsted