September is national “Drive the Great River Road” month. Twelve of Minnesota’s state parks plus a national park call this route, Minnesota’s longest National Scenic Byway, home and offer the traveler encounters with nature, history, wildlife and beautiful scenery.

Starting near the river’s headwaters, make your way along County Road 2, the Great River Road, to the Mississippi River’s pinnacle site -- Itasca State Park, where the great American river starts its journey first north, then east, and then finally south to the Gulf of Mexico. This is one of the country’s iconic Mississippi River destinations and this Minnesota state park has enriched the tourist experience. Besides the proverbial walk-across-the-Mississippi attraction, there are kayaks, hiking and birding options all within a few steps of each other.

In the middle of the state and Minnesota’s Great River Road, take the Great River Road to the only national park dedicated to the Mississippi River. You’ll find it starting in Dayton at the north end or on U.S. Highway 61 in Hastings at the southern end. In between is everything from Historic Fort Snelling to paddle sharing and from bike trails to bird watching.

In the southeast, you’ll find one of the state’s most scenic state parks -- Great River Bluffs State Park -- in the Mississippi River’s Driftless Area. Time, weather and prehistoric glacial movement have left this area with a dramatic assortment of steep bluffs, rolling uplands and braided island backwaters. Numerous scenic overlooks provide photographers ample opportunity to take that perfect shot, and hiking trails are particularly inspiring with their fall foliage.

The 12 state parks and links to their directions are here, starting at the headwaters and following the River’s meander nearly all the way to Minnesota’s southern border:

Check out the state park websites for visitor updates on local conditions before you go. For details on the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area visit https://www.nps.gov/miss.

The Minnesota Great River Road’s online “Plan Your Trip” Map and Travel Guides can be accessed at www.mnmississippiriver.com.

Upcoming events at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park

Saturday, Sept. 7

10:30-11:10 a.m. Wolf Wonders. A talk about the natural history of wolves will be followed by a film. Meet at the Interpretive Center.

2-2:45 p.m. Kids’ Activity: Wildlife BINGO. Learn about area wildlife while trying to get a bingo to win a cool prize! Meet at the Interpretive Center.

Sunday, Sept. 8

10:30-11:30 a.m. Camping at Kathio… 1,500 B.C. Step back in time as we look at artifacts and take a short walk to locations where archaeologists found evidence of a village from the 1600s and a “campsite” dating to over 3,000 years ago. Meet at the Interpretive Center.

Saturday, Sept. 14

10:30-11:15 a.m. Habitat Hike. Join us for a walk along a ½-mile trail to explore different habitats and learn about the importance of these natural homes. Meet at the Interpretive Center.

2-3 p.m. Special Program: Wolves at Our Door. Join the International Wolf Center for an engaging program to help visitors better understand the complicated issues surrounding wolves: including wolf biology, behavior, and the importance of their habitat. Meet at the Interpretive Center.

Sunday, Sept. 15

9 a.m.-3 p.m. Volksmarch Event: Fall Fun Walk. Northstar Trail Travelers will host this Volksmarch event! You can start anytime between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and finish by 3 p.m. The walks will start from two different locations but walkers need to register, and after completing each walk, check back at the registration desk. For more information: go to nstt.org or call Linda, 651-324-2880. Meet at the Interpretive Center.

14 officers join state conservation officer ranks

CAMP RIPLEY -- Fourteen people who’ve spent the past 15 weeks at Camp Ripley immersed in their new careers as Department of Natural Resources conservation officers have graduated from the CO Academy and are set to begin patrolling Minnesota’s fields, waters and woods. They’ll spend the next several months in the field working with experienced officers before assuming their assigned stations all across the state.

“DNR conservation officers work day in and day out to protect Minnesota’s people and natural resources, and have done so since the 1880s,” said Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR Enforcement Division. “It’s an honor to wear the badge and a privilege to serve, and I’m confident each of these officers is up to the task of carrying on the Enforcement Division’s proud tradition.”

Pictured (front row, left to rright): Calie Kunst, Emily Leeb, Hanna Wood, Brett Wiltrout, Marc Johnson, and Jessica Lambertz. Back row (left to right) Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR Enforcement Division director, Jordan Anderson, Mikeena Mattson, Derek Schneider, Nicholas Baum, Derek Daniels, Aaron Larson, Ryan Hanna, Adam Seifermann, DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, and DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier. Submitted photo
Pictured (front row, left to rright): Calie Kunst, Emily Leeb, Hanna Wood, Brett Wiltrout, Marc Johnson, and Jessica Lambertz. Back row (left to right) Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR Enforcement Division director, Jordan Anderson, Mikeena Mattson, Derek Schneider, Nicholas Baum, Derek Daniels, Aaron Larson, Ryan Hanna, Adam Seifermann, DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, and DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier. Submitted photo

Minnesota conservation officers are among the most highly trained in the nation in part due to the Academy training they receive before heading afield. This is the 19th formal CO Academy the DNR’s Enforcement Division has held. At the Academy, recruits are trained in all aspects of being a conservation officer and learn from experienced officers and other experts about a wide variety of topics, including education/outreach, fish and wildlife laws, patrol procedures and environmental enforcement. Cadets are tested each week and put through practical scenarios that reflect what they’ll encounter in the field.

Each of the graduates was chosen from among hundreds of applicants and underwent rigorous examinations, psychological profiles and background checks before beginning at the Academy.

There currently are about 29 vacant conservation officer field stations in Minnesota, which means the number of field officers is similar now to what it was five decades ago. The number of vacant field stations will be halved when this year’s graduates begin in their stations. The DNR plans to hold another Conservation Officer Academy in spring 2020.