The quiet under snowfall.
National forests teeming with possibilities.
The toil of trail volunteers.
Parks and trails close at hand.
The Mississippi River's presence and allure.
Above are some of the responses returned when, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we asked Minnesotans for whom the outdoors is their work site or guiding beacon and everyday Star Tribune readers to answer: What in the outdoors are you grateful for?
Perhaps wilderness titan and writer Sigurd Olson said it best decades ago, on the promise of nature's wonders:
"It is hard to place a price tag on these things, on the sounds and smells and memories of the out-of-doors, on the countless things we have seen and loved. They are the dividends of the good life."
Thomas Gable, lead researcher, Voyageurs Wolf Project
I have stood many times at a specific spot on the border of Voyageurs National Park and been filled with a deep sense of gratitude.
The forest outside of the park at this particular spot was clear-cut right up to the southern border of the park almost a decade ago — shortly after I first arrived in Voyageurs — and the land stripped of any large or mature trees. The forest reduced to a wasteland for a time.
Young aspens have since grown back, but the land has an altered or degraded character to it. After many years, the land will recover and the memory of the cut will be erased. But by that point, it will not be long before the machines return and the land is cleared again. Such is the fate of many, if not most, forests in northern Minnesota.
Yet, at this spot, one can turn north and enter into a towering magical world: the complex, mature forests of Voyageurs National Park — a radical juxtaposition to the barrenness of the recently leveled forest to the south.
Here the old lumbering aspens are interspersed with imposing white spruces. Balsam fir fills the understory. Large trees, having succumbed to old age or wind, lay on the forest floor, moss-covered and disintegrating. Other trees hang diagonally in the forest, held up by neighboring trees, dangling until they finally fall to the earth. Here is a forest that is allowed to change and grow and morph indefinitely at its own rhythm and pace.
Not long ago, as far as forests are concerned, this land was also stripped and cleared. Yet visionary people saw the profound beauty of this place and the value of protection, and worked tirelessly to establish Voyageurs — a land where forests can grow unimpeded, where someday people will be able to again experience the majestic old-growth forests of the North Woods.
I am immensely thankful for Voyageurs National Park and to the people who worked hard to establish and care for it. More importantly, I am thankful for everything that this mysterious and alluring place represents: natural processes, wild spaces and perhaps a small semblance of what the North Woods might have felt like before its old-growth forests were logged.
Brandon Baker, interpretive naturalist and co-host of Three Rivers Parks District's 'Wandering Naturalist' podcast
I am thankful for the quiet and peace that comes at night in the middle of a snowfall. It reminds me to take a breath and appreciate the moment.
Angela Grill, wildlife biologist and 'Wandering Naturalist' co-host
My own personal growth is connected deeply to my experiences within Minnesota's outdoors. I think of the maple tree I climbed as a child to look out over the Minnesota River and remember that first feeling of wilderness. My admiration for nature and her perseverance continues to grow with each adventure through various habitats, wetlands to prairies, to my own backyard where I hope one day my son, too, will climb his first maple tree. We are all connected to this web of nature, the plants, the wildlife — all sewn together to rely on one another to exist. Minnesota's sense of community and environmental stewardship within the outdoors is the best-kept secret we can be grateful for this year.
Superior Hiking Trail Association staff
The association is grateful for the dedication and energy of our volunteers who put in a record 8,000 hours in 2022. These volunteers are keeping the Superior Hiking Trail in great shape so that all Minnesotans can access this recreational resource to discover, learn and connect to nature, themselves and each other.
Kathryn Elizabeth Mitchell, St. Paul
As long as I don't get lost (or freeze to death!), cross-country skiing in the Superior National Forest is absolutely heavenly, with sunlight streaming through tall trees.
Daniel Nimlos, Coon Rapids
I'm grateful for the many hiking and bike trails we have across the state. In 2019, my family and I made it our goal to hike every state park. Little did we know just how sorely needed those opportunities to get outside together would be during COVID. We have hiked over 175 miles in the past three years. Finding the Hiking Club passwords and getting the State Parks Passport [stamps] have been fun for our son to collect in particular. It has been wonderful family time and an opportunity to see parts of the state we've never visited.
Jay Papenfuss, Winona
I am grateful for the country roads, hills, valleys, rivers, lakes, forests, prairies, fish and wildlife that Minnesota offers. But it is especially gratifying to know that everyone in Minnesota is not far away from enjoying a beautiful sunset on a Minnesota lake, like the one shown.
Sara Holger, lead interpretive naturalist, Whitewater State Park
I am thankful that the people of Minnesota have always stood up for our natural resources and championed the creation and protection of public lands. Some examples include:
- Mary Gibbs and her efforts to protect the headwaters of the Mississippi River, leading to the establishment of Itasca State Park in 1895.
- The work of the Isaac Walton League in lobbying for the establishment of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in 1924 (the third-most visited NWR in the country today).
- The work of farmers, conservationists and Richard J. Dorer to protect the Whitewater River Valley and the steep wooded hillsides of southeast Minnesota.
- The work of many, including Sigurd Olson, to establish the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in 1978.
- Minnesota voters who approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008.
- The water protectors today who work steadfastly to protect Minnesota's lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands for future generations.
We are blessed not only with abundant natural resources in Minnesota, but also with wise and committed people who time and again choose the value of our natural world over the value of commodities and profits.
Dan Hobbs, Colorado 14-er FKT record-holder, Minneapolis
One thing I am thankful for in the metro area is the wide availability of outdoor spaces that are vast and wild enough to help me forget I'm in the city. The river bottoms, national wildlife areas and Three Rivers parks help this wild-hearted outdoorsman frequently find solace and peace only available in the natural world.
William Gjersvik, Otsego
Every bad day hunting or fishing … not getting anything ... is still better than a good day at work. It's just fun to be outside in nature and appreciate it.
Catherine Ann Stoch, Fort Ripley
That one of the world's largest rivers glides by for nearly 700 miles in my home state, providing endless opportunities for kayaking adventures during summer, wild rides on crazy currents, slow meanders with the paddle up, and an array of stunning views every time I'm out. And that even when the kayak goes into winter storage, the Mississippi River is never far from my thoughts.
Sandy Luehrs, Walker
I live on a lake, by the Chippewa National Forest, near the North Country hiking trail and Paul Bunyan and Heartland biking trails and lots of great cross-country ski trails. SOOO grateful for our beautiful state and the change of seasons we experience.
Carrie Murch, Browerville
I am so thankful for the state parks in Minnesota! They offer so many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, but one of my favorites is the Lantern Snowshoe Walk. It's a great way to get together with friends.
Dale Gaffaney, Bloomington
I grew up on a farm near Alexandria, and my dad would hunt whatever was in season but loved pheasant and deer hunting the best! He introduced us kids to hunting at an early age, and we have been hunting ever since. Mom and Dad have passed, but we still have the farm. Some we rent out, but four years ago we put 30 acres into the [Conservation Reserve Program], planting native grasses and wildflowers. What a difference that has made. The deer and pheasant populations have gone way up. In addition, turkeys have moved in, and we even had a pair of sandhill cranes nest in the new grass and raise a chick. We are sure that Mom and Dad would be very happy with the decision to participate in the CRP program and to see the positive effect it has had on the land.
Michelle Morey, president, Women Anglers of Minnesota
I'm grateful to live in a state that has such incredible fishing! It's not just the sheer number of lakes and rivers, but also the abundance of fish and variety of species. As president of Women Anglers of Minnesota, our members have embraced our WAM Slam Challenge, which encourages members to catch up to 17 different species during the open water season. Minnesota is truly an angler's paradise!
Julia Schrenkler, Minneapolis
Minnesota contains four biomes, and in each wild space you're in a wonderful spot. Something all our ecological regions have in common is an abundance of public land. We're fortunate to live in a state that values good habitat for wildlife and open access to the land and water.
I'm so, so grateful for public land opportunities to be part of nature as a matter of being.
Candy Kragthorpe, Shakopee
Minnesota's magical lakes and rivers and streams provide endless moments of peace and wonder and joy.
Julie Olson, St. Paul
The many miles and networks of paved bike trails — and the vision and action to expand them.
Bob Lommel, Minnetonka
With all the opportunities this state has to offer for a family to enjoy time with each other, the outdoors has always been No. 1 with us. The beauty of a sunrise while in the woods or a sunset while sitting on the shore of a lake or the sounds of birds while hiking. We are ever so thankful for the chances we have to enjoy time with each other in the Minnesota outdoors.
Jim Smith, Forest Lake
William O'Brien State Park has been my local getaway place for years. For 37 years I have been hiking, cross-country skiing, canoeing, watching my young children get used to water and becoming young swimmers, skiing with both kids while I carried them in packs, and then watching them independently grow as skiers themselves. Watching them become lovers of the land. It also became a fall training ground for my wife and me to get ready for the ski season and enjoy the spectacular fall colors. Winter is the magical time in the park to learn to love winter, skiing hundreds of kilometers each season, day or night by headlamp. The park also became a place of both celebration and healing from the events of being human. When COVID began, my adult son and I began walking here at night. What we have seen at sunset and beyond has amazingly changed the way we think about the park as the night shift of life takes place. We still take this walk, in almost all weather from hot and humid to 20-below. So grateful to have an amazing place like this close to home.
Paul Nelson, New Ulm
Happy to be alive to enjoy it.
Aaron Hautala, Cuyuna, Minn., former president of Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew
Thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit and falling. Strike of a match, smell of wood smoke. When the temps drop, and the white snow falls, the quest for hope and joy grows nearer to those things we appreciate all year but only clearly see with a grateful eye, in the darkest times of the year. Blue skies frigid as they are, have more color in the wonder of winter. Evening shadows grow in length, size and perceived story. To the woods we must go, on snowshoe, ski or cycle. Woods so large, so clear, so quiet. Our Minnesota winter woods allows us to hear ourselves, and question, "What if?" And if, "How so?" If so, "When?" Dreams live in the forest. Deep in the snow. Out where the wild lives and sleeps. We must find it. And when we do, we find ourselves.