Families looking for a new way to have fun in the outdoors can turn to Massachusetts state parks for some fresh air and old-fashioned sleuthing.


The Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) year-round Park Passport Program encourages families to visit as many participating state parks as possible — 76 in all — and obtain a stamp from each in a special passport that can be downloaded free at mass.gov/dcr/passport.


The parks are separated into five regions (Boston, Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West). Each park houses a locked Passport stamp box, which officials hint is housed in an “obvious” place. Once families locate the box, they can unlock it via combinations found in the downloaded passport.


Inside each box is a stamp, which features an original piece of artwork designed to represent the park. Kids can stamp their passport, enjoy the park, and make plans for visiting the next one — and getting that next stamp. Anyone who visits all Passport parks in a region earns a T-shirt; kids can aim to earn a T-shirt from every region.


While the Passport program is free, parks charge for parking, anywhere from $2 and up (check your local library, it may offer a Park pass it lends to patrons).


Department officials say the program launched in 2008, after a Chicopee teacher approached a DCR park ranger and asked if the department had a program similar to the National Park Service Passport Program. The Ranger brought the idea to the Mass Parks staff, which began implementing the DCR version, with a specific focus on youth participation.


The DCR commissioned Western Massachusetts children’s illustrator Micha Archer to develop custom stamps for each park. In the past eight years, 50,000 passport books have been distributed.


Families ready to start their Passport adventure can take their first step at: mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/park-passport/getting-started.html. Other state park programs and events can be found at mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/programs-and-events/.