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Snowshoeing is a walk in the park

Park naturalist and snowshoe guide Carly Hawkinson explains to snowshoers how the fence was set up to protect young trees from being eaten by deer. She pointed out the many deer tracks circling the fence as evidence the fence was necessary. Jamie Lund/ 1 / 2
A group of snowshoers pause for a moment during a New Year’s Day hike through Jay Cooke Park to take in the beauty of the snowy woods and listen to the guide talk about some of the creatures living in the woods. Notice the red ribbon tied to a branch that marks the snowshoe trail. Jamie Lund/ 2 / 2

If one of your resolutions for 2016 is to get outside more often, explore nature or get into better shape, snowshoeing is a easy and fun way to do all of the above.

Snowshoeing is just one more fun activity that people in the Northland can do to get a dose of vitamin D in the short, dark days of winter, whether solo or as a great family outing. The weather has been hovering in the mid- to upper-20s, which many in Carlton County describe as warm, or nice, for January and perfect to be outside.

On New Year's Day, Jay Cooke State Park offered a free First Day Snowshoe Hike to celebrate the beginning of 2016.  

The event was so successful that park naturalist Carly Hawkinson added an extra snowshoe hike in the morning in addition to the original afternoon walk.

“It's a part of a healthy lifestyle,” Hawkinson said.

A group of about 25 people gathered at the front doors of the River Inn Interpretive Center for the afternoon hike.

There was a mix of ages as a few families, couples, and friends eagerly donned their snowshoes, along with some newbies to the sport who needed help from Hawkinson to figure out the contraptions.

The majority of people called ahead to reserve their spots, with a few last minute stragglers asking to join the group.

After a short educational talk about the park celebrating its 100th birthday last year, Hawkinson went over a few park rules and demonstrated how to successfully step over fallen trees and Nordic ski trails. Then the group walked across the road to start the almost two-mile hike. She explained the trail was packed and marked with bright red ribbons in the trees to help guide hikers who want to walk the trail on their own.

“You have really big feet all of a sudden, but try to walk normally. Try to be neighborly. If someone falls down, help them up and don't laugh at them,” Hawkinson said.

The park offers a few packed snowshoe trails, from easy to difficult ones that have more obstacles to climb over. Exploring off the marked trails is allowed in the park.

Hawkinson stressed again before starting the guided hike that the snowshoers needed to step over the groomed ski trails when the two paths crossed in the woods.

The skies were overcast, but the sun peeked out from the clouds for a few minutes, causing the ice on the ends of the pine trees to twinkle like little crystal ornaments.

Birds twittered from the trees and Hawkinson stopped to explain the bird songs, point out a dead tree full of holes from woodpeckers and let people rest for a minute before continuing on the trail. She encouraged snowshoers to ask questions about the creatures of the park and she explained the habits of some, as well as how the park was formed and what type of trees are found in the area.

“Would you like it if someone peeled your skin off? That’s what it’s like when someone takes the bark off of the birch tree,” Hawkinson said, “The white colored bark protects the tree from the rays of the sun. It’s like when we put sunscreen on our skin; their bark is not very thick.”

At the end of the hike Hawkinson reminded the snowshoers the next guided event would be Saturday, Jan. 9, with several more scheduled after that, including a candle-lit ski and snowshoe event in February.

“We have special events and programs going on this year to celebrate 125 years of national parks in Minnesota,” Hawkinson said.

While the snowshoes are provided free of cost for the guided hikes, the park rents them for $6 a person per day during open hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Head to Jay Cooke State Park from 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9, to enjoy a  snowshoe hike and discover the magic of the park in winter. After some “how to snowshoe” basics, the group will head out on a marked trail to see what fun nature has to offer. Child and adult snowshoes are available; call ahead to reserve a pair at 218-384-4610, ext. 227. Meet at the River Inn Interpretive Center.

For more information call 218-384-4610 x227 or visit