"Keep close to Nature's heart ... Wash your spirit clean," suggested wilderness giant John Muir.
You needn't disappear into the woods for a week, but Friday (or sometime this month) is an ideal opportunity to embrace Muir's timely and timeless advice, to wash clean of 2020 through a stop outdoors.
Consider a "First Day Hike," a New Year's Day tradition in the spirit of renewal.
The initial First Day Hike can be traced to Massachusetts in the early 1990s, the brainchild of a Massachusetts state park manager motivated to get visitors to the parks during winter. The hikes became an initiative of the National Association of State Park Directors, aka America's State Parks, in 2012, and have since been a staple at several Minnesota state parks and recreation areas.
Until this year and a pandemic.
Alas, the hikes are canceled, but the parks in their snowy finery still beckon.
"Don't let the cold days of winter keep you from getting a good dose of nature," said Rachel Hopper, manager for visitors services in the Parks and Trails division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "A growing number of research studies show that spending time outdoors is good for your physical and mental health. While experiencing the stress of a pandemic, this is more important than ever."
We asked state parks staff for insider ideas about where to get active Friday. Here are some suggestions:
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Jenni Webster, interpretive naturalist, Interstate State Park, Taylors Falls, Minn.
Here's to a fresh new year and a fresh morning! I'll celebrate as the sun is coming up, while the world is still quiet, by making a stop at one of the public water accesses along the St. Croix River State Water Trail. All have beautiful views of the ever-changing river and a few have nearby picnic tables. Facilities won't be open at this time of year, so I'll plan accordingly. Water accesses that are popular for ice fishing are more likely to have plowed lots.
I'll bundle up and bring a thermos of steaming coffee or hot chocolate to enjoy on shore. I'll listen for the booms of newly forming ice or the gentle notes of trumpeter swans in the distance. I'll soak in the emerging colors of sunrise without having to get up too early, a silver lining of short winter days. I'll watch for soaring bald eagles and look for animal prints telling stories at the shoreline. Since river ice can be deceiving, I'll stay safely on land, watching the theater of the river unfold before me. Here, change is visible moment to moment, reminding me that there is always something new just around the bend.
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Erin Fallon, interpretive naturalist, Father Hennepin and Mille Lacs Kathio state parks
Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is more than 10,500 acres, meaning ample opportunities to explore on snowshoes. You can go anywhere that is not a designated cross-country ski trail. Be considerate if you choose to go off trail because some locations have fragile plant communities. Travel on one of the more than 7 miles of snowshoe trails, which are flagged as guides. The wonderful part is that most of them take you to places you cannot get to any other time of the year. A good trail for all ages is the 1 ½-mile loop that starts at the interpretive center. You can only access a majority of this trail in the winter because of the park's extensive wetlands. Familiar summer trails can take on a whole new splendor in winter.
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Connie Cox, lead interpretive naturalist, Itasca State Park, Park Rapids
Minnesota is known for its 12,000-plus lakes. Why not get out Friday and enjoy views of Minnesota's signature water bodies, albeit mainly frozen, at a state park in the northwest? Three parks to consider:
Itasca State Park: Explore the beginning of the Mississippi River at the beginning of the New Year. Enjoy walking and snowshoeing around the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Take a chance on seeing rare critters such as fisher and otter taking advantage of the open water. Continue along the Schoolcraft Trail for a longer snowshoe walk.
Lake Bemidji State Park: Enjoy a walk or cross-country ski along the Rocky Point Interpretive Trail. This multiuse trail offers views of the lake. Take shelter from the wind and take in the beauty of the snow-covered branches accenting the shapes of maples and basswood when you snowshoe or walk the inland portion of this loop.
Lake Carlos State Park: Leaves are down, so enjoy peeks of Hidden Lake as you cross-country ski this rolling trail. For a more level ski trail, enjoy passing along the shores of Lake Carlos, continuing along the swim beach and toward the campground.
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Scott Kudelka, Minneopa area naturalist, Mankato
This hike is a great way to start out the New Year by exploring a landscape you don't always find in southern Minnesota and is a nice way to ease into 2021. Start out at the Fort Ridgely Park chalet to head down into the Ridgely Creek Valley by taking the Fairway Trail as it winds through both native prairie and forested areas. You will be able to check out a few of the Civilian Conservation Corps/Veterans Conservation Corps structures. This trail will take you around through historic Fort Ridgely and a private cemetery on the way back to the chalet.
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Sara Holger, lead interpretive naturalist, Whitewater State Park
I enjoy visiting Carley State Park in Plainview during the quiet winter months to hike or snowshoe along the Wildflower Trail. The park road is closed into the campground during winter so you'll have to park in the upper lot and hike down the road to the trailhead at the picnic area. Look for signs of turkey, deer, rabbit and fox along the way. Once you reach the trail, listen to the sounds of the river and the wind blowing in the tall white pines on the bluff above. Look for pileated woodpeckers and other birds gathering to drink from the open water. There is no cellphone reception, so enjoy this opportunity to disconnect and experience the quiet solitude of nature.
Bob Timmons • 612-673-7899