Three miles in the books, only 122 to go for those looking to meet the 125 mile hiking challenge to celebrate 125 years of Minnesota state parks and trails.
Saturday’s "Second Day Hike" on the North Country Trail, a three mile snow hike through the interior of Itasca State Park, was the first of 12 hikes to celebrate the state’s 125 year milestone as well as 100 years of the National Park Service.
Ray Vlasak, who served for eight years as president of the Laurentian Lakes Chapter of the North Country Trail, led Saturday’s hike which saw about 50 people participate. Originally planned as a snowshoe hike, the limited amount of snow didn’t necessarily make snowshoes a necessity as many walked in boots, strapped on snowshoes anyway or completed the hike on skis.
"This turnout was great. It’s the most people we’ve ever had for one of our snowshoe hikes," Vlasak said following the event. "This was a great day and the weather was almost ideal."
Twelve hikes are planned, one each month, in 2016. Saturday’s event was sponsored by Itasca State Park, along with the Itasca Moraine and Laurentian Lakes Chapters of the North Country Trail.
With the sun shining the group first made its way across Hernando DeSoto Lake before meeting up with the start of the North Country Trail. There was some apprehension and reluctance walking across the frozen lake, subsided by a couple simple jokes referring to the ice thickness and only sending one person across at a time, rather than all 50 at once.
Through the woods and rolling landscape, participants shared stories and experiences as naturalists from Itasca State Park provided some oral history along the route.
"This time of year a lot of people don’t think about hiking but it really is a great time to get outdoors," said Sandra Lichter, park naturalist at Itasca. "It’s kind of refreshing to get out and get moving and breathe in that cold air."
"It was just a fun day to be out in the woods," said participant John LaFond of Bad Medicine Lake.
Vlasak credits publicity and promotion connected to the anniversary of the state parks and trails for the event’s participation and success.
The nice weather also contributed to the 50 people who showed up.
"There has been a lot of talk about how to get out and enjoy the winter without a lot of snow," said Matt Davis of Detroit Lakes. "We’re trying to point out there’s still plenty to do. The interior of Itasca is a pretty magical spot."
Davis works for the North Country Trail coordinator for Minnesota and North Dakota.
The next in the hiking series, Owl Hooting Snowshoe Hike: Exploring the North Country Trail at Dusk, is scheduled for Feb. 20, 3-6 p.m., at Itasca State Park.
According to information provided by Itasca State Park, this is a late afternoon hike snowshoe hike along the North Country Trail planned to make a loop past Sibilant, Iron Corners and Josephine Lakes. February is the time of year that owls begin to call as they establish nesting territories. The hike is scheduled to go past the shores of several lakes, over a rolling landscape and through a mature mixed pine and deciduous forest, an ideal area to potentially see and hear barred owls.