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The late September heat wave that's pushed daytime temperatures across Indiana well above 80 degrees is a perfect opportunity to enjoy a final taste of summer before having to put on mittens and snow boots.

Indiana's Department of Natural Resources is making that taste even more flavorful by waiving entrance fees on Saturday to all state parks and state forest recreation areas in recognition of National Public Lands Day.

Held annually on the last Saturday in September, National Public Lands Day is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer event dedicated to repairing and improving public lands across the country.

"(The day) brings together hundreds of thousands of individual and organizational volunteers to help restore the country's public lands. These are the places Americans use for outdoor recreation, education and just plain enjoyment," according to the National Environmental Education Foundation, coordinator for the volunteer efforts.

Each of Indiana's 25 state parks, including Indiana Dunes State Park in Porter County, is seeking volunteers for a variety of cleanup, painting, weeding, trail restoration and season change-over activities.

At the Dunes, individuals or groups who volunteer will be asked to help do some "fall cleaning" of the inside and outside of the Nature Center, which offers a variety of educational and recreational programs throughout the year while also serving as the hub of the park's extensive trail network.

It's not necessary, however, to volunteer at a state park Saturday to gain free admission, according to the Indiana DNR.

"The day is a reminder that public lands are places for outdoor recreation, conservation and making memories with families and friends," the agency said in its free admission announcement.

A "Singing Sands Star Gaze" also is tentatively scheduled for the Dunes on Saturday.

The event enables visitors, on cloudless nights, to peer deep into the darkened skies using provided telescopes as the park's naturalists talk about Native American sky lore and help identify constellations.

Those looking to explore further, but still close to Northwest Indiana, can receive a prize for biking to a variety of locations along the more than 35 miles of easy-to-moderate trails within Tippecanoe River State Park, located southeast of the Region near Winamac.

Hoosiers and their canine companies also might want to sniff around the first dog park within a state park at Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park in Indianapolis.

Janet Holcomb, the wife of Gov. Eric Holcomb, and their popular pooch, Henry Holcomb, recently cut the ribbon on the dog park that offers nearly five acres of land for dogs to romp and roughhouse.

"It's a terrific opportunity for pet owners to bring their dogs out for some off-leash play at the state park," Janet Holcomb said.

While the majority of Indiana's state parks are concentrated in central and southern Indiana, due to the rivers, trees and hills common in those regions, all Hoosiers live within one hour's drive of at least one state park.

The parks range in size from the 165-acre Falls of the Ohio State Park on Indiana's southern border, to the expansive, 15,776-acre Brown County State Park in south central Indiana.

The first parks, McCormick's Creek and Turkey Run, were established in 1916 as part of Indiana's statehood centennial celebrations.

That legacy was extended last year — Indiana's 200th as a state — through the Bicentennial Nature Trust that saw volunteers participate in 184 projects to preserve more than 11,000 acres of new parks, trails, wetlands and forests, bringing public lands within 20 miles of almost every Hoosier.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.