Frozen diversions at Cleary Lake Regional Park

  • Article by: TORI J. MCCORMICK , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2013 - 1:42 AM

A quick visit to Cleary Lake Regional Park offers winter recreation, wildlife watching and a buffer against the seasonal blues.

hide

Cleary Lake Regional Park offers 6 miles of cross-country ski trails, plus 4 miles of trails for hiking and snowshoeing.

Photo: Three Rivers Park District

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The second I stepped out of my truck and my feet hit the slippery, icy asphalt at Cleary Lake Regional Park in Prior Lake, my eyelashes began to freeze together and my lungs started to burn.

The parking lot, typically pulsing with activity, had the look and feel of a ghost town. And why not: The temperature was 6-below and the stiff northerly winds were frigid enough to freeze your freckles off. Why endure Old Man Winter’s surly ways when you could be home sipping a soothing libation in front of a roaring fireplace?

That thought crossed my mind more than once as I trudged deeper into one of Cleary’s groomed hiking trails recently, my shivering body moving in sloooow mooootion. I swear, the naked, towering hardwoods that surrounded me were shivering, too. Still, gratitude warms the heart, if not one’s extremities, and I was happy to be alone and shrouded in solitude, nature’s year-round blessing.

Cleary Lake is one of 23 parks in the Three Rivers Park District, which encompasses five metro counties and more than 27,000 acres, much of it managed for wildlife habitat. The parks are also hubs of year-round outdoor recreation and educational programming for adults and children alike. In winter, the park district dubs this “frozen fun.”

“The biggest thing for people to realize is that these parks are available, and available for any number of outdoor activities, and not just during the spring, summer or fall when it’s more comfortable outside,” said Alex McKinney, outdoor recreation supervisor for Three Rivers Park District. “We put a focus on natural resources, for people to step away from the city environment and experience nature, see wildlife and get some exercise. In Minnesota, you have to embrace winter for what it is. There are still benefits to going outside even when it’s bitterly cold.”

Located less than five minutes from my townhouse, Cleary Lake Regional Park is one of the more popular destinations for outdoor recreationists in the south metro. At 1,886 acres, the park is actually an ecosystem unto itself. Its large lake, expansive woods, grasslands, wetlands and other natural amenities act as a buffer to civilization’s constant rattle and hum. While Cleary’s woods and waters are professionally managed and monitored by full-time wildlife and habitat specialists, the park is also designed for public use.

Cleary’s winter activities are limited only by your imagination and tolerance for the cold. The park has 6 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, with an additional 4 miles reserved for snowshoeing and hiking. Winter camping is offered for groups, and fishing the lake’s hard water is always a possibility (the lake will be aerated after Jan. 1, so be mindful of unsafe ice).

During the past two winters, I’ve used Cleary as a quick escape to reboot my mind and body when I’d get restless and cabin-feverish working from home. When I’m there hiking or watching a sunrise bleed across the horizon, I feel a sense of gratitude that such a wild place exists so close to home.

For the last 25 years, Mark Gold, 60, of New Prague, has been cross-country skiing at Cleary Lake. Gold, whom I met recently at the park, said he appreciates “working up a sweat” in the peacefulness of a natural setting. “The trails are great and groomed well throughout the winter,” he said, noting some trails are even lit for nighttime skiing. “I typically ski there 10 times a winter, and I almost always see deer and other wildlife. It’s just a great park, in winter or summer.”

On my recent hike into Cleary, in search of a little peacefulness of my own, the winter woods felt like a meat locker in the extreme. The bright sunshine blindingly refracted off the snow and provided only the memory of warmth. Aside from the shrill and annoying cry of my boots squeaking on the snow with each step, all was quiet. Eerily quiet, in fact. Signs of life were few, save for the deer and coyote tracks that dimpled the snow.

I hiked for nearly a mile when I decided to stop and listen, hoping to blend into my natural environment just long enough to see something inspirational unfold. I sat atop a tree stump that overlooked a small clearing and was quickly rewarded for my patience. The wind soon began to whistle anew above the treetops. A squadron of small birds darted over my head and disappeared like ghosts before I could identify them. After 10 minutes I sat up to leave, and a gray squirrel startled me. The bushy-tailed critter vaulted from tree branch to tree branch like a seasoned gymnast. The impromptu high-wire act brought a wide smile across my ruddy face.

Frozen fun, indeed.

 

Tori J. McCormick is a freelance writer living in Prior Lake. Contact him at torimccormick33@gmail.com.



 

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City - J. Guthrie 7:07 PM
San Francisco - T. Hudson
San Diego 21 FINAL
Denver 35
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Dallas 6:00 PM
Orlando
New York 6:30 PM
Toronto
San Antonio 7:00 PM
Houston
Miami 7:00 PM
Memphis
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Chicago
Phoenix 8:00 PM
Utah
Sacramento 9:00 PM
LA Lakers
Denver 9:30 PM
Golden State
Portland 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Dallas 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Tampa Bay 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Vancouver 8:00 PM
Colorado
Carolina 8:30 PM
Edmonton
Columbus 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Houston 7:00 PM
Chicago
Montreal 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close