The white noise of the midday traffic drew faint and dissipated as I descended a flight of weathered, wooden steps from a busy city street toward a trail below. It was like someone turned the volume down. What filled the void was the calming rush of a creek moving over and around rocks in its path.
I was on a trail along Nine Mile Creek in Bloomington, but a million miles away.
I credit Minnesota Rovers Club president Barry Shillingford with getting me down to the creek trail, part of Central Park and its watershed. I had inquired about some early spring hiking possibilities in the Twin Cities area. I wanted a place offbeat. Shillingford suggested hitting Nine Mile Creek – “a nice little gem,” he called it.
It didn’t take long for Shillingford’s words to resonate. Urban became country. Asphalt became gravel and dirt. The creek, not traffic, flowed. I flowed with it toward its destination a few miles away: the Minnesota River.
The day was cool but brilliant with sunshine, its warmth more akin to middle May than a late March afternoon. With the gurgling creek as soundtrack, I moved alone along the gravel trail, a deep cut through the neighborhoods on both sides. My boots crunched on what was left of snow. A woodpecker’s whack-whack-whack pierced the quiet at times. The creek was busy but low, with rock bars and shore line exposed. There was footbridge after footbridge, too, the creek taking a left here and a right there before uncoiling for a spell.
I eventually encountered another Nine Mile Creek admirer, Beth Conant of Bloomington. She and her dog, Rock, were making their way south, too. They moved at a pace that said they’d inhabited the trail many times. Her black Lab was out in front but not far, moving down toward the water on tongues of earth shaped liked odd puzzle pieces.
Conant lit up when we met, ready to talk about the virtues of Central Park and its creek. The area reminded me of other local and maybe lesser-known trails I’d stepped onto over the years that are the essence of what this rich region offers if we’re mindful and willing to take it.
“It’s a jewel,” she said. “I tend to see the same people, so it’s like old friends who you bump into.”
Conant said she worked for 30 years at the Minnesota Zoo, teaching classes and giving tours, among other roles. It was clear in those few minutes together that she felt nature on a different level. She was enlightened and spoke enthusiastically of wildlife sightings along the creek. In particular, of spotting a pair of trumpeter swans, a bird wiped out in Minnesota by over-hunting in the late 1800s.
“There is a healing here,” Conant said. “Nature has a healing effect, so that no matter what your troubles or your worries are you can come down here and forget completely about it. … There is a connection there.”
“It provides something for everyone,” said Greg Boatman, referring to this segment of Nine Mile Creek and the trail that runs with it. Boatman is Bloomington’s assistant parks and recreation manager. “To have the paved trail options, to have the natural surface trails options, it really does make it a destination for everyone to be able to access. It is one of my favorite places in all of Bloomington.”
With the creek as my GPS, my hourlong hike played out, and it became clear that Nine Mile Creek was a little gem but with a considerable following. I passed a dad with his two young boys in tow navigating the shoe-sucking mud. A runner getting in some miles. A woman and young boy investigating a tree along the creek bank.
All of us released from winter and a million miles away.