Free Indiana nature passports reward outdoor adventurers

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A person stands in the Rocky Hollow-Falls Canyon Nature Preserve at Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. Image: Indiana Office of Tourism Development

By Taylor Haelterman

Indiana recently introduced a digital State Nature Passport to reward visitors of 59 parks, forests, and recreation areas across the state.

The partnership between Visit Indiana and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources awards prizes when users check-in with their smartphone after visiting a certain number of the locations. Passport users receive sunglasses at 10 locations, a water bottle at 25, a hat at 40 and a backpack at 59—while supplies last.

Nearly 5,000 people had signed up four days after the program was announced, said Amy Howell the Visit Indiana director of communications.

“It’s been so popular,” Howell said. “I think it speaks to the volume of people that have taken advantage of the natural assets in Indiana, and the fact that people want to get outside and people want to hike, bike, horseback ride, watch wildlife or just take a walk.”

The program is geolocation-based, like a GPS, so participants must use a smartphone and be within a mile of the location to check in on the website, Howell said.

Check-in locations include state parks, lakes, state park inns, state forests, state recreation areas and wildlife areas. The full list is available on the Visit Indiana website.

Participants can also be entered into drawings to win other prizes that will be announced as the program goes on, Howell said.

The Yellowwood State Forest is one of the 59 locations included in the State Nature Passport program. Image: Indiana Office of Tourism Development

The Department of Natural Resources will draw for prizes each season. Some of the prizes under consideration are gift cards for state park inns, annual park passes or subscriptions to the state’s magazine Outdoor Indiana, said Ginger Murphy, the deputy director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks.

Officials have noticed a significant increase in park use during the COVID-19 pandemic and are hoping this program is a unique way to get people excited about exploring Indiana.

“We’re hoping that folks will go to some new places,” Murphy said. “We know people have places they love and want to visit, and they’ll go to those spots, too. But we hope they use this as an opportunity to explore our state parks and state forests in a way they haven’t before.”

Murphy also noted the program is a fun way to visit with loved ones while safely social distancing outdoors.

Indiana was inspired by a similar successful passport program in Iowa, Murphy said.

Visitors use the toboggan run at Pokagon State Park in Indiana. Image: Visit Indiana

Other Great Lakes states also have creative approaches to state-wide recreation programs:

Participating in the passport program is free, but users will have to pay entrance fees at the locations.

Another option is purchasing an annual entrance permit which admits everyone in the car into all properties on the passport list, except the state park inns, Murphy said. For more information on annual entrance permits and entrance fees visit the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website.

The State Nature Passport program is available for both residents and non-residents of Indiana. Sign up here.

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