My Instagram account is connected to the National Parks account. Amazing pictures scroll by exalting the majesty of the natural wonders in the USA. Adventures await me if only I dare travel during the pandemic. Then the images of the Arches National Park click by. Photos of natural sandstone arches in Utah look strangely familiar. I flip through my own photo files until I find the photo of the bridge arch over the Otter Tail River taken from the riverwalk.
The bridge arches are not natural but man made. They were built to connect the north and south sides of Fergus Falls. I have traveled over these arches hundreds of times, but their real beauty is from the underside. The blue blazes on the riverwalk indicate that this is part of the National Scenic Trail system called the North Country Trail (NCT).
I don’t need to travel to California, Utah, or even northern Minnesota to go to a National Park unit. Fergus Falls is a trail town included on the 4,600-mile North Country Trail that traverses eight states from Vermont to central North Dakota.
The scenery on the Fergus Falls section of the NCT goes from open prairie to river bluffs, from woods to wetlands, but my favorite part is the arches over the river in downtown Fergus Falls. The urban walk portion of the NCT includes the riverwalk as it winds from Veterans Park east of downtown to the wooden steps leading to an isolated peninsula with a spectacular view of the river flowing under the railroad trestle west of Union Avenue.
The riverwalk displays signs of a friendly community. Local artist murals interpret Fergus Falls icons like monarch butterflies, playful otters and smiling fish. Park benches invite walkers to slow down and enjoy the power of hypnotic river rapids. Fergus Falls history is recalled at informational kiosks. Wild flowers and planted gardens show a community that cares. All of these wonders are waiting for you with no crowded parking lots or waiting lines for tickets. Just step outside, take a walk and enjoy.
Kim Embretson is a member of the Lakes and Prairie Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.