Dave Montague and Chris Ortman visit all 71 state parks
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Kinship and youth mentoring in Morrison County has been around since Big Brothers and Big Sisters discontinued its Little Falls club in 1994. Another association around for a long time is the relationship between Kinship mentor Dave Montague and 14-year-old Chris Ortman.
“Chris and I have been matched since he was 8 years old,” said Montague. He said it’s been an adventure.
Director of Kinship Aaron Olson said the matches are encouraged to set goals. Montague and Ortman’s goal was to visit every state park in Minnesota and their aim was finally accomplished in August.
In the beginning of their relationship, Montague and Ortman discovered they both enjoyed hiking and camping.
“We hit a couple of parks one day,” said Montague. “That’s when we decided it would be very fun to visit them all.”
The Minnesota State Park system’s Passport Club has members earning awards when they visit a certain number of parks. Each person gets a patch for their eighth, 16th, 32nd and 48th park. With each visit, their “passport” is stamped with the name of the park. There are currently 71 parks in Minnesota, soon to be 72 when the Lake Vermilion Park opens. After visiting the 71st state park, visitors receive a pin and a plaque commemorating their accomplishment.
Ortman said he found the diversity of Minnesota the most fascinating.
“It’s been interesting learning about Minnesota. There’s open prairie out west and even saltwater near Lake Bronson in the northwest corner of Minnesota,” said Ortman. “I learned that the pioneers homesteading in the Bronson area hit veins of saltwater when drilling for water. They dammed the river to obtain a fresh water supply, which created Lake Bronson.”
The two learned the northernmost state park is the Garden Island Recreation Area near Lake of the Woods.
“But, it’s on an island and visitors need a boat, which we didn’t have, to access it,” said Montague. “We still got the stamp at Zippel Bay State Park nearby.”
Ortman’s favorite parks included Bear Head State Park near Ely, because Bear Head Lake was so clean and the campsites were right next to the lake.
Montague said his favorites were Tettegouche, Itasca and St. Croix state parks. Itasca and St. Croix had the best trails, he said, and Tettegouche had the best rocks and the view of Lake Superior.
Not all Kinship participants have lofty goals like Montague and Ortman. And the two don’t visit state parks exclusively. They also do normal “stuff,” like watch the Vikings, mow the lawn, make wood and hang out.
Olson said there are currently 18 matches in Kinship and the average length two people are together is three years.
“We match for a year at a time,” he said. “Then the mentor, the child and his/her parents meet to see how it went.
“The goals for each match vary. The biggest reason is to enjoy time together,” he said. “What they do together is up to them, but we look for a positive, growing experience. Kinship’s job is to support the participants.”
Montague said he mentors for many reasons. Having been taken under the wings of some unlikely people when he was young is just one. He knew he wanted to do the same for another kid.
Plus, he wouldn’t have seen all 71 parks without Ortman.
Kinship opens doors to new ideas and experiences for both the child and the mentor.
“I get more out of our relationship than Chris does,” said Montague. “But, I know it works both ways.”
The two are already considering their next goal of visiting all 390 national parks and filling those passports. They have already seen seven.
Becoming a mentor requires one hour a week, or four hours a month. Questionnaires are required to learn likes and dislikes of both participants and there is an interview process and a background check.
If mentoring sounds as if it may take too much time from a busy life, Montague suggests turning off the television one night a week.