Local state parks offer children's activities on weekends

DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY biology student Aubrey Lipetzky is working as a naturalist at Lake Herman State Park this summer. During the week, she conducts research for activities she will offer on weekends.

Summer fun looks different for the second year in a row. Last summer, the pandemic limited options available to families. This year, the Madison Aquatic Center is closed.

Parents seeking fun activities for their children need look no further on weekends than Lake Herman State Park or Walker's Point Recreation Area.

"Anyone can come to them. That's why I put it on Facebook," said park naturalist Aubrey Lipetzky.

In recent weeks, activities have included crafting animal masks, learning how to track, taking a BioBlitz scavenger hike, and making clouds after learning about the weather. Over the Fourth of July weekend, activities include a beach relay, a bike parade, and painting with red, white and blue.

The times vary, but a minimum of two activities are held at both Lake Herman and Walker's Point every weekend. At Walker's Point, activities are generally held at the playground, but sites vary at Lake Herman. Lipetzky often uses the amphitheater, which lies between the two campgrounds, but may use the swim beach or another location if it is better suited for the activity.

Specific times and places can be found on the Lake Herman State Park & Walker's Point Recreation Area Facebook page. The schedule of events is usually posted early in the week for the following weekend.

Lipetzky, who is majoring in biology at Dakota State University, said she conducts research online to identify possible activities. Pinterest has been one source she finds helpful.

"I find things I think are interesting, something I want to learn about," she indicated. "The things I choose to teach about tie into what I've learned in school. I'm more into the nature and conservation side of things."

Her experience in teaching comes from coaching color guard at Brandon Valley High School, where her brother has been the band director. As a student at Roosevelt High School, she was involved in color guard.

As a summer naturalist with the state Department of Game, Fish & Parks, she plans activities for young people well in advance. She is already planning to teach the cultural significance of beading in the Native American culture at some point in July and will include a beading activity.

"Next weekend, we're going to do more about the ecosystem. We're going to make mini ecosystems in a jar," Lipetzky said about the weekend of July 10-11.

Upcoming activities also include Christmas in July and learning to cook with a Dutch oven. Among her favorite activities thus far has been making cards for Father's Day with those who participated.

To date, groups have been small, with between five and eight children in attendance at each activity. This enables her to teach in a more casual manner.

"When there are fewer people, I can talk to them one to one," Lipetzky said, explaining that she teaches about nature during those conversations.

In addition to posting information on Facebook, she promotes the activities by posting signs at the comfort stations and by walking through the campgrounds distributing information. She emphasizes the activities are open to people in the community as well as to campers.

"I want to draw people from the community," she stated.

Area residents are also invited to participate in the State Parks Poker Run. Participants can hike or bike trails to collect their poker hand. They need to take selfies with each of the five poker card signs and email them in for a chance to win.

More information about the poker run can be found at gfp.sd.gov/poker-run.