Last summer, Tracy and Ben La Van from Des Moines, Iowa entered a Hike Minnesota Sweepstakes from Explore Minnesota for a guided hike on the North Country National Scenic Trail.

The trail runs through seven states from North Dakota to New York and passes through Hubbard and Cass counties.

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The La Vans won and contacted Matt Davis, regional coordinator for Minnesota and North Dakota, in late April about their interest in the hike and visit to Park Rapids this spring. Davis, in turn, contacted the Itasca Moraine Chapter, made up of volunteers maintaining the trail from Itasca State Park to near Longville.

The sweepstakes was intended to be taken during the fall colors but Tracy, a student at Iowa State University, and Ben, who maintains ATM machines, were busy at that time deciding to come the weekend of May 5-7.

Itasca Moraine Chapter President Eric Haugland offered the four-mile Waboose Lake loop trail north of Nevis and/or the North Country Trail in Itasca State Park.

Tracy asked if they could do those sections on their own and wanted a wilderness experience. Haugland offered an eight-mile section in the "Gulch" and Paul Bunyan State Forest from County Road 91 west to County Road 4, passing six named lakes.

A better weekend could not have been picked; the weather was great. Haugland and fellow chapter member Florence Hedeen picked Tracy and Ben up at the Red Bridge Inn in Park Rapids at 8 a.m. May 6. (Two-nights lodging was included in the sweepstakes prize). They stopped at chapter member Byron Knapp's residence enroute to assist in shuttling vehicles and heard of his spring bear encounters just off County Road 1 on the east end of Fish hook Lake.

The hike was great. The La Vans are interested in hiking, but said opportunities are limited in Iowa.

Woodticks were plentiful, but due to preparation before the hike, didn't really reduce the enjoyment of the day.

Turkeys, grouse, hawks, ducks, deer, beaver, and frogs were seen, and chaga and birch bark were taken home for souvenirs. Tracy commented how the lakes were so tranquil with beaver and waterfowl activity. Both Ben and Tracy had heard of the trail before but had not realized, prior to Hedeen's explanation, it is comparable to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, with at least a couple of "through-hikers" who hike the entire 4,600 miles each year.

Haugland said many chapter trail adopters are accessing their section of the trail now this spring, checking on blown-downed trees and brush knocked over by snow and ice during the winter.

The trail is used throughout the year by hikers, trail runners, snowshoers, skiers, berry pickers and mushroom hunters. The chapter offers guided hikes every month of the year. If you would like to know more about the trail contact or call 218-732-3910.