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

San Diego 7:25 PM
Denver
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
Indiana 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Detroit
Dallas 7:00 PM
New Orleans
NY Islanders 6:00 PM
Boston
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Detroit
Vancouver 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Chicago 7:00 PM
Nashville
Arizona 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Carolina 8:00 PM
Calgary
Buffalo 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Columbus 9:30 PM
San Jose
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 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
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 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
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