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Outdoor Notes for Dec. 21

State parks to host first day hikes Kick-start your New Year's resolution to keep in shape with an invigorating First Day Hike at a state park near you! All 50 states are participating in the fourth annual national event that invites families to ...

State parks to host first day hikes

Kick-start your New Year's resolution to keep in shape with an invigorating First Day Hike at a state park near you! All 50 states are participating in the fourth annual national event that invites families to celebrate the New Year with guided outdoor adventures. Last year, more than 27,000 people covered around 66,000 miles on 885 hikes in state parks across the country.

"First Day Hikes offer a healthy way for people of all ages to get outside and take in these beautiful natural areas," said Priscilla Geigis, president of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD). "State Parks provide unique opportunities for visitors to experience historical and cultural areas, seasonal flora and wildlife alongside dedicated park staff and volunteers."

The sponsored hikes range from less than one mile journeys, to longer, more intense workouts, depending on the state and terrain. In addition, some states are also sponsoring trail adventures for cyclists and equestrians, as an added way for guests to appreciate nature.

The American Hiking Society, partnering with America's State Parks for a second year to promote First Day Hikes, reminds visitors to remember the weather and plan accordingly.

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"We encourage families in cold-weather states to be prepared for First Day Hikes by dressing in layers, wearing hats and appropriate footwear. We also recommend all hikers bring along snacks and water for the journey," said Gregory Miller, president of American Hiking Society. "Many State Parks offer pet-friendly hikes on New Year's Day and families are reminded to maintain their dogs on a leash and keep their family pets sufficiently hydrated and fed."

America's State Parks boast a variety of beautiful settings for year-round outdoor recreation, and each First Day Hike will offer residents an opportunity to explore unique natural and cultural treasures close to home. Featured hikes range from a trek across a natural bridge in Arizona, to a look at the historic mansion of New Hampshire's first royal governor. Hikers can enjoy breathtaking views from atop the mammoth Table Rock Mountain in South Carolina or a morning run with park rangers in Texas.

"America's State Parks is dedicated to helping young and old alike explore some of the most breathtaking public lands in their home states," said Lewis Ledford, executive director of NASPD. "First Day Hikes offer opportunities for children to see firsthand how inspiring nature can be, and how outdoor exercise improves their physical and mental health."

First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation - a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. Details about each state's hikes, including locations, length and starting times are located at www.naspd.org .

11th Annual Ice Fishing Contest and Scorpion Homecoming is Feb. 7

If you haven't caught the big one this year, then make a point to fish the Cuyuna Lakes Chamber 11th Annual Ice Fishing Contest and Scorpion Homecoming on Saturday, Feb. 7 from noon to 3 p.m. Catching the big one, medium one, or small one can all be eligible for cold hard cash prizes. Come early, pick a hole, then visit the vintage Scorpion sleds and vote for a people's choice award. Ice fishing raffle tickets are on sale now and only $10. They make great stocking stuffers. Your raffle ticket also acts as your entry fee to fish, one ticket per hole. Bring your family and friends for a great day on Serpent Lake in Crosby, there's no better way to celebrate Minnesota winters.

Raffle Ticket Prizes: 1st Prize: Eskimo H.C.40 4-stroke propane ice auger

2nd prize: Clam Nanook two-man portable fish house with two deluxe swivel seats

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3rd prize: Marcum PanCam underwater camera system (WiFi capable)

4th prize: Maucieri's Bar & Bistro wild game dinner for six people

5th prize: Overnight stay and free buffet for two at Grand Casino Mille Lacs

Please contact the Cuyuna Lakes Chamber for more information and to purchase your raffle tickets at 218-546-8131 or Jessica@cuyunalakes.com .

Start a new tradition: Late-season pheasant hunting

An abundance of birds, lack of snow and higher late season bag limits are all good reasons why Minnesotans may want to try some late season pheasant hunting.

"Hunters are still flushing a lot of birds," said Nicole Davros, a wildlife research scientist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "The season doesn't end until Jan. 4 so there's plenty of time to get outdoors and get into some good hunting."

Even though December tends to be a busy time of year for many, perspective on the rush of life can be gained by getting away from it all, even briefly, Davros said.

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"There are few better ways to take a break from eating cookies at holiday gatherings or buying presents than getting out into the fields to flush some birds," Davros said. "Do it once and it may well become a welcome tradition around the holidays."

The birds are out there, especially in the southwest, south-central and west-central regions of Minnesota. This year's DNR roadside survey count of pheasants taken in August showed a six percent increase in the state's pheasant population compared to last year, though long-term the trend in pheasant numbers is down.

"Even though pheasant numbers are down on a long-term scale, it's important that people get out and experience pheasants in their habitat, and for most people that means hunting them," Davros said. "Once you see these birds out in the wild, it's hard not to care about their plight, which represents the plight of all grassland wildlife and the health of their habitat in general."

A small game license for Minnesota residents age 18 and older is $22, and the required pheasant stamp is $7.50. Pheasant hunters age 16 to 17 must buy a $5 small game license but need not buy a pheasant stamp, and hunters under age 16 can hunt pheasants without a license.

Minnesota's 2014 pheasant season started Oct. 11 and runs through Sunday, Jan. 4. Through the end of the season, the daily bag limit is three roosters and the possession limit is nine roosters. Shooting hours are 9 a.m. to sunset. Additional details are available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/pheasant .

DNR, partners working on 4-year plan to boost pheasant numbers

Citizen input from the Minnesota Governor's Pheasant Summit soon will be converted into a four-year action plan to increase and enhance grassland habitat on public and private lands.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said agency staff and partner organizations are analyzing dozens of recommendations from the Dec. 13 summit in Marshall.

This first summit brought together Gov. Mark Dayton and 300-plus hunters, farmers and conservation experts, including those from Pheasants Forever. Together, they focused on pheasant habitat, pheasant biology and they spent much of the day identifying potential solutions to the plight of a bird whose numbers are declining at a significant rate.

"Citizens talked. We listened. The next step is to convert words into actions," Landwehr said.

Landwehr said citizen input will be used to develop a summary of the Pheasant Summit recommendations that will be shared with the public in mid-January.

"The focus will be about increasing bird numbers not government regulations," Landwehr said. "Realistically, that means zeroing in on the interests and needs of private landowners as they own 95 percent of the property in the pheasant range."

Landwehr said the action plan to be completed in 2015 will include recommendations for increasing the quality and quantity of public grasslands but "the inescapable truth is what happens on private farmland is what drives pheasant numbers because of the vastly higher proportion of acres in private ownership."

The summit was emceed by Minnesota conservationist Ron Schara, who termed the pheasant the proverbial canary in a coal mine.

"As pheasant numbers go, so go our bobolinks, butterflies, pollinators and more," he said.

Both Schara and Dayton urged the group to focus on strategies that will increase pheasant numbers, improve habitat, and make sure future generations have the opportunity to enjoy one of the state's most popular game birds.

"I was pleased we could have a candid conversation about habitat loss and its impact on our pheasant population," said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. "The summit produced a good variety of strategies to consider as we work to improve the future for pheasants in Minnesota."

Minnesota's current pheasant population estimate is down 71 percent from the long-term average. Minnesota hunters harvested more than one million pheasants annually from 1931 to 1964; the 2014 harvest is projected to be about one-fourth of that.

Said Landwehr: "That's what happens when only two percent of the state's original 18 million acres of prairie remain and 490,000 acres of grassland have disappeared since 2007 through expiring contracts in the Conservation Reserve Program."

Landwehr said it will take a couple of weeks to "accurately sort out the input of such a large group" and that he is buoyed by the depth and breadth of innovative ideas.

"Finding strategies that work for both land and people is key," said John Jaschke, executive director of the Board of Water and Soil Resources. "Projects and practices to achieve clean water or soil improvement can help the pheasant population. Site selection and design can be adjusted to build habitat into watershed protection projects. Grassland buffers are one such example of a multi-benefit practice that was highlighted at the summit."

Convened by Dayton, the Pheasant Summit was attended by citizens, conservation groups and many state, local and federal entities that deliver habitat conservation programs, including the DNR, Board of Water and Soil Resources, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource and Conservation Service and more.

Learn more about the Pheasant Summit recommendations and current programs at www.dnr.state.mn.us/pheasantsummit/index.html .

Related Topics: HIKING
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