Alyssa Hei and Brock Johnson
In 2017, Two Harbors, Minn.-based backpack-maker Granite Gear began recruiting hikers to remove trash from parks and trails around the country. The program, called Grounds Keepers, enlisted two Minnesotans as part its 2018 effort, Hei of Duluth (focused on Superior Hiking Trail), and Johnson of Minneapolis (focused on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, John Muir Trail and Banff National Park).
Hei: From June to October, I hiked more than 400 miles, and during that time picked up 160 total pounds of litter left behind. I'd like to say that 160 pounds made a difference, but sadly the areas I picked up are already riddled with freshly discarded garbage. I think the goal of going to the beach, or out on your favorite trail and not finding litter each time is one worth working for. Be sure to bring a garbage bag or bucket next time you head outside! Alongside trash pickup, I created a hashtag for the Superior Hiking Trail, #HikethatSHT, and will be rolling out T-shirts and stickers in 2019. Part of the proceeds will go toward maintaining the Superior Hiking Trail and the people that help keep our North Shore trail looking top notch.
In 2019, I plan to add to the collection of litter I managed to find along Superior trail and throughout town in Duluth.
Johnson: I was fortunate enough to be selected to the 2018 Granite Gear Grounds Keepers team. This opportunity inspired me to travel and clean up some incredible places. I thru-hiked 246 miles on the John Muir Trail in California; hiked and kayaked Banff and Jasper national parks in Canada; took an annual trip to the BWCA; and spent much of the summer on the St. Croix River. As I did this, I picked up trash and spread the Leave No Trace etiquette. Of the many things I learned this year, one of my favorites was how willing and eager my friends were to join in the cleanup process. The Grounds Keepers team collected more than 3,500 pounds of trash in 2018, and I was honored to be a part of it. In 2019, I plan to do more to spread Leave No Trace awareness through photography and videography. (Read their May story)
The runner from Burnsville has done a popular 24-hour ultra race in Minneapolis for going on 30 years. This year she set a new mark.
In 2018, I became the first person to accumulate 3,000 miles in the FANS 24-Hour Race. It was my 29th. It took a lot of determination running through all kinds of weather, one pregnancy, and one nasty fall that took me out of the race in 2016. I have been able to accomplish this goal because of the support I received from my husband, son and all of my friends. These people have been out at the race supporting me year after year. They either crew for me or run with me. Or do both! During the last of my 3,000 miles, my son and many of my friends ran with me in the wee hours of the morning. One friend, who I had not seen for many years, flew in from California to surprise me. Bob Frawley, the race founder, came back to run with me despite having to drop out of the race earlier with an injury.
A race like this makes a person realize you can accomplish a lot in life with determination but, most importantly, how vital friends and family are in our lives. For 2019, I've got four races scheduled so far. On Jan. 6, I'll be running the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Marathon at St. Olaf College, a 150-lap indoor marathon. Then in April, I'm signed up for the Run for the Lakes Marathon in Nisswa. In August, I'll return to run the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Hurley, Wis. Of course, I'll be running FANS again in June, but I'm not sure which race I will run, having officially retired from running 24-hour races! (Read her May story)
A regular hiker and volunteer on the Superior Hiking Trail, the retired landscape architect and artist has a specialty in cartography. He designed and drew a comprehensive map of the 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail.
It has been a delight to see the enthusiasm of those who have made use of my trail map. I was a little surprised that the map has found many functions — hung in homes and businesses as art, used for planning trips, and as a navigational tool on hikes. I've sold more than 2,000 maps, more than I ever expected. People comment that they appreciate the art and beauty of an "old school" hand-drawn and hand-lettered map. They like that the map is waterproof for functional use, and appreciate the added details of shipwrecks, fish-stocked lakes and rivers, city map insert details, and on. (Read his March story)
This past summer I explored the potential for making a unique map for an area of local interest. In my summer explorations, I backpacked part of the Colorado Trail, kayaked the upper Missouri River, led an annual BWCA canoe trip, and hiked various trails in northern Minnesota. My new map will be available in 2019 and will be announced on my website (kjmyrmel.webs.com).
Gabriele 'Gabe' Grunewald
The professional runner started a foundation to support victims like her of a rare cancer of the salivary glands.
In 2018, I spent a good deal of time working on launching my foundation and also getting in as much running as possible in between cancer treatments and travel. What ended up being a great year for the Brave Like Gabe Foundation (and our first 5-kilometer run in May) turned out a challenging one for my running: I had a couple of frustrating injuries that prevented me from racing. Looking to 2019, my plan is to continue to grow the foundation as we work to inspire cancer survivors and patients, while also making a tangible impact through research funding. Personally, my greatest desire is to get back on the track and compete! With the 2020 Olympics around the corner, I am very motivated to return to the U.S. Olympic Trials for a third time. The qualifying window opens this upcoming summer and I am looking forward to chasing fitness and a qualifying mark. (Read her April story)
The dog musher from Two Harbors was featured with her team in January. She went on to a top finish at the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon later that month. The race runs nearly 400 miles from Duluth to Grand Portage.
On Nov. 1, my doctor found a dark mass growing around my ovaries. I underwent surgery Nov. 13. Fortunately the pathology report came back noncancerous. That scare will have a great impact on my 2019. I'm kind of done saying, "Oh sure, let's get together," then letting it drop. A lot has been put into perspective. Last year's highlight was not only finishing fourth in the Beargrease marathon, but I was honored as the top female musher. In 2018, my son Ero also handled teams for my husband, Ward, and me. Along the way, he told us he wanted to run sled dogs. He started training, and we raced the Wolftrack Classic in Ely. It was amazing to race with him as a mother and as a musher.
For 2019, the Beargrease marathon is a 12-dog race. The challenge will be keeping those 12 dogs healthy. We went grain-free with our dog-feeding program, and it now contains more protein. Considering my major health scare, this Beargrease means more than any other. (Read her January story)
One of the Minnesota group organizers for Outdoor Afro, a national group connecting blacks through activities in the outdoors.
Wow — 2018 is coming to a close soon. My big goal this year was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa with Outdoor Afro. While I did not make it to my goal (my summit was 17,716 feet) due to stomach issues, the experience was a great opportunity and unbelievable chance to go on an expedition with people who look like me. My hope is that my journey would inspire my children, family and community to push themselves to new boundaries. I also was able to try several new activities (stand-up paddleboarding, log rolling and disc golf) this year. Outdoor Afro partnered with Three Rivers Parks District to access their parks and instructors for introductions into more activities. I also was one of the many competitors in this year's Red Bull Urban Portage race in October in Minneapolis. For 2019, I want to continue to provide opportunities for the Outdoor Afro community and work on getting my little ones out camping, canoeing and exploring. (Read his May profile)
The former supervisor of the Nongame Wildlife Program of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) — a program he founded. His projects over 40 years have bolstered the populations of multiple species, from trumpeter swans and common loons to bald eagles and bats. He also is a distinguished birder.
I retired in October after 45 years of service, leading the DNR's Nongame Wildlife Program. Soon thereafter I became the conservation committee chairman for the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union and a board member of both the National Loon Center and Trumpeter Swan Society. I am working with the Minnesota chapter of The Wildlife Society to advocate nontoxic ammunition for deer hunting so we don't poison bald eagles and expose hunters and their families to lead in their venison. I also am part of a new Ornithologists' Union project that involves collaborating with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. It involves trials of industrial hemp seed grown in Minnesota as wild bird food. My wife, Ethelle, and I enjoy keeping up with our son, his wife and our two grandsons in New York City. I will be leading a birding tour with Ethelle in January to Colombia. (Read a profile from August)
Kari Gibbons and Kate Coward
The ultramarathoners from Minneapolis did a double-Arrowhead 135 (covering 270 miles) last January from Tower, Minn., to International Falls, and back. They were the first women to accomplish it. The Arrowhead 135 is considered one of the most extreme races in the world.
Gibbons: Things have been pretty exciting ever since Arrowhead last January. I have enjoyed an even closer friendship with Kate and love being involved in her awesome journey! I shifted my training this summer and spent my hours and miles pacing my boyfriend, Erik, at 100-mile trail races. I'll usually pop in the last 30 to 50 miles to bring him home. We also took as many weekends as possible to go camping in our beautiful state forests and backpacking the Superior Hiking Trail with a dear friend.
I'm certainly experiencing a different kind of energy and am very much looking forward to the upcoming winter ultramarathons. My goal this winter is to do all three races and be inducted into the Order of the Hrimthurs again (having done Arrowhead, Tuscobia in northern Wisconsin, and Actif Epica in Winnipeg). Instead of the all-foot division, this year I will run the Tuscobia 160, Kate and I will team up again and ski the Arrowhead 135; and I will bike Actif Epica. My big dream is to go to Alaska and participate in the Iditarod Trail Invitational next year!
Coward: 2018 ended up being a whirlwind of a year. In one way, I was off the adventure racing calendar, and in another way, I had the best and biggest adventure yet! After returning from our double Arrowhead 135, I found out I was pregnant. I missed doing Ironmans and biking, but I ran regularly until 34 weeks, including a mix of destination marathons and half-marathons. I turned primarily to yoga at the end of my pregnancy and practiced until the day I went into labor. I had a healthy boy in September. I cannot wait to tell him about the incredible adventure we had together!
In 2019, Kari and I will team up to complete the Arrowhead 135 on skis. If completed, I will celebrate the "A Trois" having completed the Arrowhead 135 in all three disciplines of ski, bike and foot. I am so excited to get back on the trail with Kari and continue to learn about ourselves and our limits. (Read a related story from February)
The Minnesotan is competing in a competition called Extreme Huntress, among her many other outdoors pursuits.
I was in San Antonio at the end of July competing for Extreme Huntress 2019. I matched skills with three other women in a bid for the title: Tatiana Orosova of Slovakia, Ulrika Carlsson-Arne from Sweden, and Jaime Belknap from Washington state. The competition is in the final stage with a documentary series airing online and final voting open. The winner is announced in January. I need votes from Minnesota and beyond for a chance at the title! (Go online to extremehuntress.com to see episodes and to vote.) If I win, I will build on my efforts to represent women as capable and competent in the outdoors.
Additionally, I was selected to be on the Citizen Council on Angler and Hunter Recruitment Retention and Reactivation (aka R3) for the Minnesota DNR. This fall I returned to teaching natural resources at Itasca Community College, and have mentored students in grouse and woodcock hunting. In retrospect, I had excellent fall and summer seasons and harvested a nice buck. Organic free-range eating, everyone! (Read her June story)
In March, the renowned explorer left on a 1,000-mile solo adventure through the Barren Lands, a remote region in the Canadian Arctic, leaving from northwest Saskatchewan.
I had to come back from my Barren Lands solo before reaching my final destination at Baker Lake because of a fundraiser in June, which paid for my summer staff. I've been working to get the Steger Wilderness Center in Ely, Minn., more sustainable. I'm planning another expedition. I'm returning next year to where I cached my Barron Lands canoe last May. The expedition will stretch 90 days over fairly inaccessible country. Only small ski planes can fly into this area and don't have the capacity to carry a canoe. I'm not going to finish off last year's trip, which would be east to Hudson Bay. I'll instead head straight north over difficult terrain to the Arctic Ocean. I may have bear encounters on this trip from polar bears, not just grizzlies like last year. (Read his March story)
An outdoorswoman on multiple fronts, hunting, fishing and focusing on conservation. She works for Audubon Minnesota.
I took my first steelhead fishing trip on the North Shore this year and caught some beautiful trout. I could elaborate but a hunting story about coming up empty-handed actually means more to me. The woman who took me steelheading also guided me during the 2018 Governor's Pheasant Opener. This is only my third season pheasant hunting and I surprised myself by getting a bird with my first shot. Finding the pheasant was another matter. We couldn't find it even after searching for the better part of an hour. I felt bad. It's the first bird I've lost. Still, it reinforced why I use steel shot. I don't ever have to worry about hawks or other scavengers being poisoned by my lost game bird. As with past years, my 2018 hunting, fishing and birding trips redefined success for me. Regardless of expectations, I always gain a deeper understanding of my relationship with nature and that makes it worth all the effort. (Read her April story)
The acting director of the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, with a site at the University of Minnesota. The research center, which covers 22 states in the Midwest and Northeast, is one of eight nationally under the Department of the Interior.
In 2018, I had the tremendous opportunity, as acting director, to learn the nuts and bolts of running a research center. A few highlights: learning about management challenges from our stakeholder advisory committee; teaching a course for graduate students interested in public service; and launching a national project on the effects of climate change on fish and wildlife disease. In the summer, our family went West on a 10-day adventure to Yellowstone National Park, Tensleep Preserve, Badlands National Park, and several state parks. In 2019, I'll focus on supporting new, high-quality climate research projects across our 22-state region. In appreciation for the guidance I received from others over the years, I'll also dedicate more time and energy to mentor students and support the wildlife science community. (Read her February profile)
The founder and director of the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota runs an annual camp for young musicians in the outdoors on Lake Vermilion.
My wife and I live a block from the Mississippi River, where we take daily walks observing the water movement. We also visit Minnehaha Falls once or twice a week in spring, summer and fall. It's quite a majestic falls. In wintertime, it's frozen. Composer Antonín Dvorák wrote a piece after visiting Minnehaha Falls. Music and nature are inseparable, the two greatest gifts we've got.
Next summer, we'll be back at the camp. I tell my students that music and water are closely related. There is no such thing as a straight line in music and that's the truth with water. Straight line is the worst kind of music-making — no turbulence. A lake has all kinds of movement with a single amount of water. Whether it's calm or stormy, it's a very good lesson. (Read a related story from September)
Stories compiled by C.B. Bylander, Frank Bures, Mackenzie L. Harvey, Jeff Moravec, Scott Stowell and Bob Timmons for the Star Tribune.