JEFFERSON CITY _ "May I see your passport please?" This is what Missourians may be hearing not at the airport, but at state parks across the state.
Missouri's Natural Resources Department has kicked off a new public relations program to encourage people to visit the state's 78 state parks, state historic sites, and affiliated sites.
The State Park Passport Program gives park visitors a "passport," which can be stamped at any of the sites. "It's a way to help people explore all of the state parks and historic sites in our system," said Sue Holst, information officer for the Division of State Parks.
The sites have been divided into six themes. The themes include: Natural Landscapes, Missouri's Legacy, Missouri Mills and Covered Bridges, Lake Parks, Famous Missourians, and Caves and Geologic Wonders. When visitors receive stamps at every park in a certain theme, they will receive a full-color patch indicative of the theme they explored. For example, the Famous Missourians patch is a picture of Mark Twain, whose birthplace in northeast Missouri is a historic site. Holst said the department hopes that if people are interested in certain subjects they will visit all of the parks in that theme.
And if a participant makes it to all 78 sites, there are prizes to be won. "If you visit all 78 sites in the program," Holst said, "you'll receive a vacation package from the state parks." The package includes a free night's stay in a state park cabin or motel, a free meal at a state park dining lodge, a state park t-shirt, and a personalized state park sign.
Holst expects the program to be a success. "I think there will be a lot of support," she said. The department has a similar program, the camper award program, which has been popular. "I think this will be even more so," she said.
Taxpayers need not worry about a big bill for the program, either. Holst said the entire program cost the state less than $5,000, and is part of its promotional budget. There is no charge to participants.
Anyone interested in receiving a passport can call or write the Natural Resources Department directly. Passports may also be obtained at any state park or historic site.