Bandit, my 9-year-old Shih Tzu, led the way down the winding path of the North Country Trail (NCT) section in Ferber Park, north of Fergus Falls. His short legs and curious nose kept me walking at a frenetic pace. We picked up the pace to a steady trot when a frog jumped out of the tall grass onto the path. Bandit made a quick stop and hopped after the frog until it disappeared. This stop-and-go pattern continued until we climbed the crest of a glacial moraine and Karen Nitkorski walked into view.
I knew Karen from her work with Minnesota’s Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, but I had only met her informally twice, both times on the NCT. I asked her why she liked walking.
“My neighborhood had a jewel of a park. Long walks in the park gave me the solace and rejuvenation I needed to get through my teen years,” she reflected.
Karen’s work in public health introduced her to the abundance of trails in Fergus Falls. She started walking the NCT section that follows the river near the Hoot Lake power plant. Then a neighbor told her about the section that runs through Ferber Park only a block from her house.
“I like walking because I am of the ‘get outside and play’ generation, instilled in me by my mother. I’m still a kid at heart,” she said with a smile in her voice.
Karen shares the benefits of walking through her work in our region. “I am currently working with people to promote exercise as a way to improve diabetic and prediabetic conditions. I get outside no matter what the season. Scenes like a white blanket of snow contrasting with the green leaves on trees still take my breath away.”
Bandit and I continued trotting along toward the parking lot. Around one of the cars came a man with a big black Lab. My first thought was how will my energetic small dog react to a strange big dog? I pulled the leash tight, but then noticed that the man was my friend Dick Barsness. We stopped to chat and the dogs carried on their conversations with sniffs and playful romps. We untangled the dog leashes while we talked about the beautiful fall scenery and how much our dogs liked the open country and new smells on the trail.
Dick’s parents also encouraged him to go outside. Camping with the Boy Scouts established his habit of hiking and love of nature. “Now I walk each day with Hope, my rescue black Lab. Hope would stay out all day if she could,” Dick chuckled.
Delagoon Park, One Mile Prairie, and Ferber Park are some of their favorite trails to walk. “Walking on a trail is good for me because the groomed paths are easier on my replaced knees than open fields. More than exercise, the fresh air is renewing and there are always beautiful scenes to see on a walk,” Dick reflected.
Patricia Goldenstein is another friend that likes to walk the trails in Fergus Falls. Recently I asked if she had always been doing things outside.
“I grew up near a small town. There weren’t a lot of social activities, so I pretty much played outside all the time. I walked the creek banks behind our house and looked for interesting animals and plants. Sometimes my father walked with me along the creek or on winding cow paths. He instilled in me the joy of nature,” she recalled.
Patricia still took walks in the fields and woods when she moved to a farm near Fergus Falls. “I would always find interesting things to see like the den of foxes near the woods,” she said nostalgically.
Even when she lived in the suburbs to be close to her children and grandchildren, the tradition of enjoying the outdoors continued. They rode bikes on paved trails enjoying the benefits of healthy activity and curiosity about nature. This philosophy that began with her father is now into the fourth generation.
She likes that the NCT is connecting local trails with a national park system. “People can take the short walks that I enjoy, but they can also take longer hikes across the region or state. These off-road trails may inspire the next generation to enjoy the natural world around them,” she said hopefully.
Bandit and I walk outside every day despite the viral threat. We join the many people who have found a healthy release from staying at home by walking the bountiful trails around Fergus Falls. The trail systems are available for all of us.
Kim Embretson lives in Fergus Falls and is a member of MN Waters and Prairie Chapter of the North Country Trail. Follow our Facebook page (MN Waters & Prairie-NCTA) for upcoming events.