A high-ranking Department of Natural Resources manager who oversaw Minnesota's vast network of state parks, recreation areas and trails has taken a new job with a nonprofit known for connecting underprivileged groups to the outdoors.

Erika Rivers has been the director of the DNR's Parks and Trails division since 2014, a role she took on after overseeing the divisions of fish and wildlife, enforcement, and parks and trails as assistant DNR commissioner.

Rivers will be executive director at Wilderness Inquiry, beginning Nov. 30. In a news release Thursday, the nonprofit said it looks forward to Rivers' strategic planning skills and her focus on "creating welcoming outdoor environments for historically underserved audiences."

"Rivers' passion, energy, and expertise is clear," said Ed Spencer, Wilderness Inquiry's board chairman. "She also brings a collaborative leadership style that is a perfect fit with the current team at Wilderness Inquiry."

Rivers said in the news release that she is "thrilled to be part of the journey forward." Her last day at the DNR is Nov. 29.

Wilderness Inquiry is known for outreach programs like its Canoemobile, which uses the group's 24-foot Voyageur canoes to get young people out on the Mississippi River.

Greg Lais founded the group in 1978. He stepped back as executive director in early 2020, according to the news release. After serving as interim, Kim Keprios was named executive director in May 2020. The group's board began a search for a new executive director four months ago.

Rivers' departure will come at a time when some state parks, recreation areas and trails never have had more visitors. Some of that newfound interest was fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said Rivers' leadership has been felt, especially through strategic planning and work on parks and trails funding from the Legacy Amendment, and she'll be missed.

"Her contributions are significant," said Strommen, who said the agency will conduct a national search to find Rivers' replacement.

Strommen said the next director will continue to move forward "the message of inclusivity and the reality of that coming to be in our parks and trail system."