Lisa Brainard: State park events can fill Memorial Day weekend

LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER Trout fishing is one of many programs offered at two area state parks over Memorial Day weekend. And the trees will probably be a lot greener by then on the South Branch Root River at Forestville/Mystery Cave, seen here. The other park is Whitewater.
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Lisa Brainard
Journey vs Destination

Winter lasts so darn long these days… and when spring comes, it seems to test our patience with unending rain and cool temps, with possibly one nice day a week. Ugh!

So, it’s hard to believe – at least to me – that Memorial Day and its three-day holiday weekend is just two weeks away! Oh my! If you have yet to book a campsite or motel lodging, get on that ASAP! Many locations may already be full. Then again, somehow it seems people may find something open. Get on it IMMEDIATELY!

All that said, there are numerous Memorial Day weekend events available at two of our area state parks. Remember, these parks have admission fees while activities themselves are free, other than Mystery Cave tours and entrance to the Historic Forestville location, a Minnesota Historical Society site at the same park. Get more info and/or reserve a cave tour in advance at 866-857-2757, and at

Historic Forestville, open throughout the weekend, offers special tours twice included with its admission fee on Saturday, May 25, from 10:30-noon and from 2-3:30 p.m. Meet the people who built the town of Forestville on a guided walking tour of the historic Zumbro Hill Cemetery. Tours start at the historic site at times given. Reaching the cemetery involves a 20-minute hike up a moderate-grade hill. Guests should arrive at Historic Forestville 15 minutes early for a shuttle, which will take them to the cemetery trailhead. Drive through the state park to reach parking for Historic Forestville. More info: 507-765-2785 or

Other activities at the two parks follow.

Friday, May 24

Whitewater State Park (SP) – 6-8 p.m. Ghost town cemetery field trip. The town of Beaver was abandoned in 1938 after repeated flooding. This ghost town cemetery holds many stories of pioneers, civil war veterans, Minnesota conservation hero Richard Dorer (of area forest fame) and others who have lived in the Whitewater Valley. Make a cemetery visit and learn some fascinating history. Bring transportation. North of St. Charles on Highway 74. Info at 507-312-2300, or at

Saturday, May 25

Forestville/Mystery Cave SP – 10 a.m.-noon. Snakes of the Blufflands. Learn which snakes you might see in the park and how to tell the difference between a rattlesnake and many similar looking non-venomous snakes in the area. You will also have the opportunity to see a live timber rattlesnake. Meet at the amphitheater. Park directions: From State Highway 16, go 4 miles south on Fillmore County Highway 5, then 2 miles east on Fillmore County 118. Info at 507-352-5111, or at

Forestville/Mystery Cave SP — 2-4 p.m. Fossil hunt. Expecting a good yield of 450-million-year-old brachiopods on this fossil collecting field trip. Meet at the amphitheater for a brief talk, then car caravan to a location outside the park where you can keep the fossils you find. Collecting fossils is not allowed in state parks. Participants must drive their own vehicles from the meeting location to another site. Sun protection and sturdy shoes are recommended.

Whitewater SP – 10 a.m.-noon. Fossil field trip. Find, and keep fossils of plants and animals that lived here hundreds of millions of years ago, long before the dinosaurs! Bring transportation, as the site is nine miles from the park.

Whitewater SP – 1-2 p.m. Intro to geocaching. A treasure hunt using a GPS unit. If you have a GPS unit, bring it. If not use one from the park.

Whitewater SP – 3-4 p.m. “100 Years in Paradise: Voices of Whitewater State Park.” The park turned 100 this year. Learn about the history of the park and surrounding Whitewater Valley through the stories of people who have lived, worked and played in it over the past century. Audio clips from the park’s oral history project have been woven into this interactive presentation.

Whitewater SP – 7-8:30 p.m. Owl prowl. After a presentation, go “prowling” for owls using newly learned skills. It’s a “hoot” for all ages!

Sunday, May 26

Forestville/Mystery Cave SP – 10 a.m.-noon. Trout fishing basics. Learn how to fish for trout at this introductory program. Limited fishing gear will be provided and fishing license requirements are waived for this educational program. Learn about trout, the food they eat, and how to catch and release them. To register, call 507-937-3251. Program will begin at the picnic shelter. Participants must drive their own vehicles from the meeting location to another site.

Whitewater SP – 10:30-noon. Intro to trout fishing. Rods, reels, and tackle will be provided at this activity designed to introduce trout fishing to inexperienced anglers, families and youth groups. Youngsters must be accompanied by an adult. Bring your own bait; worms often work best. Fishing licenses and trout stamps are not required when fishing during the activity. This program will be offered at Whitewater every Sunday through Sept. 1.

Whitewater SP — 12:30-2 p.m. Bird banding demonstration. Join Master Bird Bander Greg Munson at the visitor center bird feeders for close-up experiences with birds. Program participants will have the opportunity to handle and release birds after they have been caught in nets, studied, observed and banded with an aluminum tag. Program cancelled if rainy.

Whitewater SP — 2-4 p.m. Jackie Fallon of the Midwest Peregrine Society will have a live peregrine falcon, and look at the past, present and future of these falcons in the Whitewater Valley and across the Midwest.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this column weekly for over 15 years.