With the pandemic has come restrictions on travel, forcing those who like to visit new places and see the sites to delay plans and put away their passports. However, Owatonna Parks and Recreations will soon be handing out passports of its own and encouraging residents to safely travel to local parks.

The Owatonna Parks and Recreation’s passport program runs from Sept. 23 until Oct. 21. The free initiative encourages residents to get out, explore the local parks and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Individuals as well as household teams may print out the passport off of the Parks and Recreation website. Passports can also be picked up at the Parks and Recreation Office at 540 West Hills Circle between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Passports will include 10 park locations where travelers will have to locate reflective yellow and white posted signs. On the back of each sign is a word which can be recorded onto the passport in the corresponding box. After visiting all of the parks a message should be revealed.

“Within our passport we have 10 maps too, most of (the signs) are right off of the trail,” said Tim Truelson, recreation manager at the Owatonna Parks and Recreation.

The program has been held for the last five or six years. Typically 120 to 130 passports and 300 to 400 people participate, according to Truelson.

“We did offer a spring one this year, just because of what was going on with the COVID and stuff, Truelson said.

Beyond exploring the local parks, Truelson hopes the program motivates people to stay active and healthy. After talking to repeat participants, Truelson noticed that some people were surprised to find out about the existence of some local parks, effectively exposing them to new areas.

“They are kind of hidden gems within our parks system and once (the participants) go there they might say ‘hey this is awesome’ and hopefully they go back,” he said.

With less park programming during the fall and spring seasons, thus less people visiting parks, there tends to be more negative activity going on such as vandalism, Truelson says. However, after getting people to visit the parks more often, these negative activities decrease.

“With instituting this passport program it’s getting more people into our parks and we have seen our vandalism go down about 95% in the fall with this program,” Truelson said.

Completed passports should be turned in by Oct. 26 to be entered into a prize drawing. Prizes include $50 gift certificate, $25 gift certificate, 10 pack of waterpark day passes for the 2021 season and a package featuring sporting equipment.

“I just hope people enjoy going out into our parks and seeing some parks they maybe haven’t had a chance to see in the past,” Truelson said. “It’s a great family event.”

Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.