Cross-country skiing at St. Cloud's Quarry Park and Nature Preserve

  • Article by: LISA MEYERS MCCLINTICK , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 5, 2014 - 6:43 PM

St. Cloud’s Quarry Park and Nature Preserve is an inspiring destination for skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking.

hide

St. Cloud’s Quarry Park is popular for swimming, fishing and diving during the summer. Once the park freezes over, it treats skiers, snowshoers and winter hikers to pretty scenes such as the one above.

Photo: LISA MEYERS McCLINTICK • Special to the Star Tribune,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

On a mid-December morning, the air bites so frigidly that even the snow seems to protest with a stiff squeak as skis swish through the tracks. A few quick glides beyond the trail leads to a pretty scene that looks natural on first glimpse: a snow-covered pond with a rocky edge.

Study it more closely, though, and parts of the ledge start to seem artificially steep. The rocks are suspiciously square. The occasional cube of granite sports rough ridges left by dynamite, blasts that regularly reverberated throughout St. Cloud from the late 1800s into the 1950s.

These days, the 625-acre Quarry Park and Nature Preserve is a much quieter place, offering a woodsy escape for skiers, snowshoers and winter hikers.

More than 4.2 miles of winter trails loop through this vast park spanning about 30 abandoned quarries. Traditional skiers can choose the 2.2-mile outer trail or an inner 2-mile loop. There’s also a 3.5-kilometer stretch for skate skiers, where they can glide along with graceful speed.

On this far western edge of the city it’s quiet enough to hear the distant whistle of trains and the rustle and rattle of brown oak leaves that refused to fall. The arthritic oak branches canopy parts of the trail, with pines or birch flanking other stretches.

Stripped of summer’s thick curtains of leaves, winter woods make it easy to see “grout piles.” These rugged mounds of discarded quarry rocks tower above the trees like funeral cairns for giants. On thick summer days, breezes stir deliciously cool air that lurks deep within these grout piles, a wisp of natural air conditioning on the 10-minute walk from the parking lot to the designated swimming quarry. In the winter, the grout piles shelter skiers from the wind.

Haley Entner and Dayna White, friends and work colleagues, dodged dangerous windchills by sticking to a loop dotted with woods and rock piles, avoiding the park’s open stretch of prairie known for midsummer’s Indian paintbrush. They wrapped up a morning outing with frost flocking their hair and hats.

While Entner visits Quarry Park often with her family during the summer and fall, she fell in love with the winter season more recently during the annual moonlight ski. Sponsored by the park and the Nordic Ski Club of Central Minnesota, this year’s event happens Friday, Jan. 3 from 6 to 10 p.m., includes free admission (the county normally charges $5 for parking), a bonfire and heated gathering area, hot cocoa, and free ski rentals through Fitzharris Sports or Revolution Bike and Ski with advance in-person reservations. “We went out there and just had a blast,” Entner said. She now prefers the snowy season above others at the park. “It’s so much more peaceful out there in the winter,” she says.

All of the ski trails are considered flat enough for beginners with a few gentle hills. The easy terrain leaves visitors with enough energy to ponder the land’s history.

The first quarry opened in the early 1860s, with granite growing into an international commodity and St. Cloud earning the nickname “The Granite City.” St. Cloud Red Granite, which came from the park’s quarries, was used for St. Paul’s Landmark Center and the James J. Hill House.

The region still claims the world’s biggest granite producer, Coldspring, along with many other granite and rock companies with sheds and showrooms spread along the Highway 23 corridor. The Stearns History Museum has a permanent granite quarry display, and Quarry Park itself continues to add to its interpretive displays, currently featuring quarrying equipment and a derrick that’s occasionally demonstrated.

Quarrying on what’s now park property ceased in the mid-1950s, letting Mother Nature take over. The giant granite bowls filled with spring water, making them irresistible to youth and college students.

“Swimming and partying at the quarries were a longtime tradition,” says Peter Theisen, Stearns County parks director.

The 112-foot-deep swim quarry remains the park’s biggest attraction, but the park’s other areas offer secluded and scenic spots for trout fishing, scuba diving, rock-climbing and challenging mountain bike trails. In the summer, hikers can find marsh marigolds while walking across a floating boardwalk, yellow lady’s slippers in the woods, and even prickly pear cactus on the dry, rocky outcroppings.

Winter suffuses the park with more subtle beauty: iced branches that glitter like crystals, cool blue-gray shadows and pale sunshine mingling on a canvas of snow, and the brighter blend of clear sky, dark pine and etched trees.

Returning after dark, the park feels even quieter. Trail lights shine like hip-high beacons, welcoming skiers to weave along its granite legacy while soaking in the beauty of a winter’s night.

 

Lisa Meyers McClintick is a travel writer based in St. Cloud, Minn., and the author of Day Trips from the Twin Cities.

  • 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

Cleveland 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Tennessee 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Detroit 12:00 PM
New England
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Jacksonville 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Cincinnati 12:00 PM
Houston
Tampa Bay 12:00 PM
Chicago
Arizona 3:05 PM
Seattle
St. Louis 3:05 PM
San Diego
Miami 3:25 PM
Denver
Washington 3:25 PM
San Francisco
Dallas 7:30 PM
NY Giants
NY Jets 11/24/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Baltimore 11/24/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Detroit
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Dallas
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
LA Clippers 5:00 PM
Memphis
Portland 5:00 PM
Boston
Charlotte 5:00 PM
Miami
Golden State 6:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Denver 8:30 PM
LA Lakers
St. Louis 3:30 PM
Winnipeg
Montreal 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Arizona 7:00 PM
Anaheim
Chicago 8:30 PM
Vancouver
Coll of Charleston 16 1st Half 8:27
George Mason 20
Massachusetts 11:00 AM
Florida State
Youngstown St 6 1st Half 18:09
UNC Greensboro 4
Wofford 2 1st Half 17:58
Sam Houston St 2
Ark-Pine Bluff 11:30 AM
Central Mich
Southern Ill 12:00 PM
Ill-Chicago
Drexel 12:30 PM
Cornell
American Univ 12:30 PM
Morehead State
CS-Northridge 1:00 PM
Ark-Little Rock
Bethune-Cookman 1:00 PM
Central Conn St
South Dakota 1:00 PM
Fairfield
Columbia 1:00 PM
Lehigh
Texas A&M 1:00 PM
New Mexico
TX A&M-CC 1:00 PM
Saint Louis
Merchant Marine 1:00 PM
Stony Brook
Longwood 1:30 PM
Eastern Mich
Providence 1:30 PM
Notre Dame
Jackson State 2:00 PM
UAB
Coppin State 2:00 PM
Denver
Northwestern St 2:00 PM
Oklahoma
Catawba 2:00 PM
Radford
Newman 2:00 PM
Wichita State
Yale 2:30 PM
Kent State
USC 2:30 PM
Penn State
St Katherine 3:00 PM
UC Riverside
NC Central 3:00 PM
Creighton
South Florida 3:00 PM
NC State
Nichols College 3:05 PM
Holy Cross
Dayton 3:30 PM
Boston College
Wagner 3:30 PM
Hofstra
Towson 3:30 PM
Monmouth
UMKC 3:30 PM
Samford
NC A&T 4:00 PM
Bradley
Eastern Ill 4:00 PM
Cincinnati
Fla Atlantic 4:00 PM
Georgia
Presbyterian 4:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
St Francis-NY 4:00 PM
Rutgers
Binghamton 4:30 PM
Navy
USC Upstate 5:00 PM
UCF
UMass Lowell 5:00 PM
Fordham
Montana State 5:00 PM
Kentucky
Iona 5:00 PM
North Texas
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
Seton Hall
Akron 5:30 PM
South Carolina
Connecticut 5:30 PM
West Virginia
Hood College 6:00 PM
Howard
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Ohio State
Tennessee St 6:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Delaware 6:00 PM
CS-Bakersfield
Mercer 7:00 PM
Colorado State
SD Christian 7:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Northern Ariz 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Manhattan 7:00 PM
Northeastern
Pacific 7:00 PM
Washington
Miami-Florida 8:00 PM
Charlotte
Old Dominion 8:00 PM
Illinois State
UC Irvine 8:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Long Beach State 9:00 PM
UCLA
Montana 9:30 PM
Seattle
Kent State 0 Cancelled
Buffalo 0
Texas-El Paso 13 FINAL
Rice 31
Air Force 14 FINAL
San Diego St 30
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Utah State 41
Char Southern 9 FINAL
(9) Georgia 55
South Alabama 12 FINAL
So Carolina 37
Rutgers 3 FINAL
(10) Michigan State 45
Minnesota 28 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 24
Northwestern 38 FINAL
Purdue 14
(18) Marshall 23 FINAL
UAB 18
Kansas 7 FINAL
(23) Oklahoma 44
Indiana 27 FINAL
(7) Ohio State 42
Penn State 14 FINAL
Illinois 16
(16) Eastern Ky 3 FINAL
Florida 52
TX-San Antonio 7 FINAL
Western Ky 45
SMU 7 FINAL
UCF 53
Tulsa 28 FINAL
Houston 38
Virginia Tech 3 FINAL
Wake Forest 6
Washington St 31 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 52
Louisiana Tech 27 FINAL
Old Dominion 30
Western Mich 32 FINAL
Central Mich 20
New Mexico 20 FINAL
(22) Colorado State 58
Eastern Mich 30 FINAL
Ball State 45
Appalachian St 35 FINAL
Louisiana 16
(15) Arizona 42 FINAL
(20) Utah 10
FIU 14 FINAL
North Texas 17
(8) Ole Miss 0 FINAL
Arkansas 30
Louisville 31 FINAL
Notre Dame 28
Maryland 23 FINAL
Michigan 16
Texas Tech 34 FINAL
Iowa State 31
(14) Wisconsin 26 FINAL
Iowa 24
Syracuse 7 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
Boston College 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 20
Georgia State 0 FINAL
Clemson 28
Tulane 6 FINAL
East Carolina 34
Stanford 38 FINAL
California 17
Western Carolina 14 FINAL
(2) Alabama 48
ULM 30 FINAL
New Mexico St 17
So Florida 20 FINAL
Memphis 31
Colorado 10 FINAL
(3) Oregon 44
Fla Atlantic 34 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 35
Samford 7 FINAL
(16) Auburn 31
Miami-Florida 13 FINAL
Virginia 30
Vanderbilt 0 FINAL
(4) Miss State 51
(19) Missouri 29 FINAL
Tennessee 21
Oklahoma State 28 FINAL
(6) Baylor 49
(24) USC 20 FINAL
(11) UCLA 38
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
Connecticut 0
Boise State 63 FINAL
Wyoming 14
Oregon State 13 FINAL
Washington 37
Fresno State 40 FINAL
Nevada 20
UNLV 35 FINAL
Hawaii 37
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(5) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
(21) Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(18) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(19) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(15) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(11) UCLA
(22) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(17) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(9) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
(20) Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(8) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(24) USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(6) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(12) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
(25) Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(16) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
New England 12:30 PM
Red Bull New York
Seattle 4:00 PM
Los Angeles
Montreal 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 3:30 PM
Calgary
Alabama 11:30 AM
Temple
Massachusetts 12:00 PM
Florida State
Creighton 12:00 PM
(1) Connecticut
Bryant 12:00 PM
Boston College
Robert Morris 12:00 PM
UMBC
Sacred Heart 12:00 PM
Maine
Virginia Tech 12:00 PM
Providence
Coll of Charleston 1:00 PM
George Mason
Hartford 1:00 PM
Lafayette
William & Mary 1:00 PM
High Point
Western Ill 1:00 PM
Florida Atlantic
Pittsburgh 1:00 PM
James Madison
Toledo 1:00 PM
(24) Purdue
Western Mich 1:00 PM
Michigan
Cleveland State 1:00 PM
FIU
San Diego State 1:00 PM
(2) South Carolina
Mount St Marys 1:00 PM
Davidson
IUPUI 1:00 PM
(15) Michigan State
Illinois State 1:00 PM
Colorado State
Incarnate Word 1:00 PM
Indiana
Cincinnati 1:00 PM
Iowa State
Furman 1:00 PM
Clemson
VA Commonwealth 1:00 PM
Ohio State
Marquette 1:00 PM
(7) Duke
Bethune-Cookman 1:00 PM
East Carolina
Coppin State 1:00 PM
Wake Forest
(24) Georgia 1:00 PM
Georgia Tech
Ball State 1:00 PM
(12) Louisville
Auburn 1:00 PM
Virginia
Utah 1:00 PM
(16) Nebraska
Minnesota 2:00 PM
Memphis
Georgetown 2:00 PM
Kansas
Northwestern St 2:00 PM
Arkansas
TX-San Antonio 2:00 PM
Lamar
Southern Miss 2:00 PM
McNeese State
Air Force 2:00 PM
SIU-Edwardsville
IUPU-Ft Wayne 2:00 PM
USC Upstate
Morgan State 2:00 PM
Texas Tech
Western Ky 2:00 PM
Miss State
Southern U 2:00 PM
Illinois
Eastern Illinois 2:00 PM
North Texas
Alabama State 2:05 PM
South Alabama
Wisconsin 2:05 PM
Drake
Seattle 3:00 PM
Montana State
UC Santa Barbara 3:00 PM
Northern Ariz
Hofstra 3:00 PM
Norfolk State
Iona 3:00 PM
Pacific
Middle Tennessee 3:00 PM
Ole Miss
Portland 3:00 PM
Cal Poly
(10) Texas 3:00 PM
UCLA
Fresno State 4:00 PM
USC
Ave Maria 4:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
Holy Cross 4:00 PM
(3) Notre Dame
Chicago State 5:00 PM
Oakland
(11) North Carolina 5:00 PM
Oregon
Harvard 6:00 PM
Quinnipiac
Princeton 6:00 PM
American Univ
Missouri 8:30 PM
(14) California
Yale 9:30 PM
Washington
UNLV 10:59 PM
Hawaii
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