Fifth-graders explore the woods at Lake Maria
October 11, 2019

Getting youth outdoors by partnering with Friends Groups

School is back in session. And for some lucky students this fall, their classroom happened to be a park or trail for a day.

At Lake Maria State Park, third-graders spent the day digging up invasive worms, petting five species of Minnesota turtles, and peering through microscopes to see the bugs that live in the lake.

This field-trip is one of the five projects funded by Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota and organized by local friends groups. All five projects facilitate youth education in a park or trail.

Minnesota’s parks and trails have so much to offer as nature’s classrooms. When students are immersed with hands-on learning it brings the lessons to life. Plus, many parks and trails are designed to accommodate large groups with shelters, amphitheaters and trails. Yet, two barriers often stand in the way: lack of funding—especially for transportation—and lack of awareness.

By encouraging friends groups to outreach to educators to find ways to use the park, we tapped into a wealth of enthusiasm.

Five friends groups responded to our grant initiative with projects that fit the unique needs and resources of their communities.

This program not only has the direct impact of bringing hundreds of youth into parks and trails—some for the first time—it also builds the capacity of friends groups, hopefully to continue this work into the future.


Friends Groups Supported


Funds Awarded


Estimated number of youth engaged

Fifth graders on a biking field trip
Fifth graders on a biking field trip

Bicycle Field Trip

Gitchi-Gami Trail Association partnered with a public school to lead fifth-graders on a bicycling field trip. With some bikes and helmets provided, the students pedaled 18 miles on the trail, stopping at education stations at two state parks along the trail.

by Gitchi-Gami Trail Association

Woman holding out turtle to youth
Third graders touch a turtle

Third-grade field day

Friends of Lake Maria partnered with a schoolteacher to organize two full-day field trips in the park for third-graders. The day included eight hands-on learning stations.

by Friends of Lake Maria

Energy Carts and Toddler Materials

Friends of Tettegouche State Park created an interactive, educational cart on wind energy. The friends-group volunteers roll the cart out in the park and facilitate youth in operating the equipment. They also purchased materials for the park’s toddler programming.

by Friends of Tettegouche State Park

Kids look on as a naturalist tries to find something in the water with a stick
Lake investigation at Wild River SP.

Day in the Park

Friends of Wild River State Park organized a Day in the Park for youth in 3-6 grades. They partnered with the community education to bus children to the park and engage them in hands-on learning, including hiking, dissecting owl pellets, playing music, identifying leaves and more.

by Friends of Wild River State Park

Climbing in the Park

Friends of Blue Mounds State Park has organized a day of rock-climbing in the park for youth ages 5-18. The friends-group volunteers will coordinate with experts from Roca Climbing to provide all the gear and coaching for all abilities of climbers. Originally planned for Oct. 5, but postponed until spring due to weather.

by Friends of Blue Mounds

About Lisa Filter