Contact(s): Paul Holtan for park, forest and trail activities, 608-267-7517; Theresa Stabo for free fishing activities, 608-266-2272
MADISON - A 50th anniversary celebration of Hartman Creek State Park, the grand opening of a campground at Buckhorn State Park, 20 fishing clinics across the state, an art fair along the Willow River and a discovery day and outdoor skills fest are among the events that highlight Free Fun Weekend in Wisconsin on June 4-5.
The first weekend in June offers ample opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors in Wisconsin. Admission stickers are waived for Wisconsin's state parks and forests, trail passes normally required for those 16 or older who bike, in-line skate or horseback ride on state trails are waived and no fishing licenses are needed to fish state waters. People who camp at state parks still need to pay for their campsites, and fees are not waived at Heritage Hill State Park, which is operated by a non-profit organization that charges a per-person admission to the park.
Wisconsin law requires those who use Wisconsin ATV or UTV trails to display either Wisconsin registration or a Nonresident Trail Pass, but on Free Fun Weekend, ATV/UTV owners do not need to have their machines registered in Wisconsin and nonresidents do not need to have a trail pass.
"Free Fun Weekend is a great opportunity for people to get out and enjoy Wisconsin's beautiful parks, forests and trails," said Gov. Scott Walker. "I encourage people to pick up a fishing rod and enjoy free fishing if they have never tried or haven't fished for a while, or take a hike or bike ride on one of our many state trails."
The Governor noted that Wisconsin State Parks, Forests and Trails are important to Wisconsin's and local economies, attracting a record 16.5 million visitors in 2015 and estimated total spending by park properties visitors at more than $1 billion a year.
Hartman Creek State Park, located in Waupaca County just west of the city of Waupaca, will celebrate its 50th anniversary June 4. There will be events throughout the day ranging from presentations by wildlife, forestry and warden staff, to fishing and living history programs put on by park staff and the Friends of Hartman Creek. There will also be free cake and a visit from Smokey Bear. The Friends of Hartman Creek State Park, bike and horse clubs, the Ice Age Trail Alliance and the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program, all of which influenced and contributed to the park over the years, will have displays at the park. A program and afternoon awards ceremony will recognize individuals -- both park staff and volunteers -- who have been special contributors to the park.
Buckhorn State Park will celebrate a new 60-unit, fully developed campground. The grand opening will be at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 5, by site 105. There will be a short presentation with ribbon cutting, cake, and self-guided hike on the new campground trail and games at the beach. This is the first new state park campground in Wisconsin since 2011 when one opened at Governor Thompson State Park.
The Pike Lake Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is hosting a Discovery Day on Saturday, June 4 that begins at 7:30 a.m. with a bird hike and runs through 1 p.m. with t-shirt printing, geocaching, archery, fishing with a sportsman's club and a hike on the park's segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail with the local Ice Age Trail group. Visitors can meet Smokey Bear and DNR wardens, rangers and naturalists.
June 4 is also National Trails Day and the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest will celebrate with a late spring hike on the Ice Age Trail through the forest. The hike begins at 9 a.m. with a 4.5-mile option or shorter 2-mile family-friendly hike option available. The city of Amery, which is located between the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail and Cattail State Trail in Polk County is holding "Amery Trails Days," with a pancake breakfast, a bike rodeo at 9 a.m., and other activities including a petting zoo, afternoon sloppy joe meal, free ice cream cones, car seat checks and a lifelink helicopter visit near the Amery Fire Hall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On Sunday, June 5, the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest will host a Summer Outdoor Skills Fest with archery, fish casting, tracking, fire building, outdoor cooking, knot tying, geocaching, tent pitching and signaling. Visitors can bring a bandanna to print or can purchase one that day.
Also on June 5, Willow River State Park will host its annual Art Along the Willow. Visitors can stroll through the park past booths of many fine arts and crafts. Musical groups will provide free entertainment. A special craft tent will be available for children. The Friends of Willow River and Kinnickinnic State Parks also plan to have a food concession stand. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Some properties are taking advantage of Free Fun Weekend by offer fishing clinics, including High Cliff, Kohler-Andrae and Merrick state parks, Richard Bong State Recreation Area, and the Northern and Pike Lake units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
But people can fish anywhere in Wisconsin without a license or trout stamp on Free Fun Weekend. This includes all inland waters and Wisconsin's side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. Other fishing rules apply, such as limits on the number and size of fish you can keep and any seasons when you must release certain fish species.
And if people are enjoying Free Fun Weekend from a fishing boat or are just out on the water in a canoe or on a paddleboard, state conservation wardens are reminding them to wear a life jacket.
"More than 90 percent of boat fatalities related to drowning involve victims not wearing life jackets," said April Dombrowski, head of the DNR recreational safety team.
All vessels, including canoes, kayaks and paddleboards, must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person onboard, and for any boat 16 feet and longer, one approved throwable device.
"We recommend that everyone wear their life jackets while on the water. Paddleboard users by law also must have a life jacket, also known as a personal flotation device, for each person on board. It's easiest just to wear it while you're paddling. Some of the new designs are so light and flexible you barely know you have them on," Dombrowski said.
She also offers paddleboarders, or those looking to add this activity to their outdoor fun this year, a few safety tips to remember: carry a whistle; know how to swim; know how to self-rescue and tow to another board; know local regulations and navigation rules; keep an eye on the weather and water conditions; and take a safety course - no matter what boat you are using.
For more information search the DNR website for "free fun." Find parks, forests and trails by searching the Department of Natural Resources website for "find a park" and find events by searching for "Get Outdoors," and then click on the "type" button and select "Free Fun Weekend."