by Heidi L. Everett
Stearns County Parks and the Nordic Ski Club of Central Minnesota are challenging you to cross country ski (or hike or snowshoe) this month.
“This year has been a challenge for everybody,” said Sarah Weed, parks operations coordinator for Stearns County Parks. “One of our annual events, the Moonlight Ski, usually occurs the first weekend in January with a chili feed and raffle.”
Like so many other events, the Moonlight Ski was cancelled due to the pandemic, so the parks department and ski club came up with a new plan.
“We are encouraging people to use all four of our ski parks in January and then register their name in the Moonlight Ski Challenge drawing,” Weed said.
People can enter the drawing once for each park visited and earn additional entries for using all four parks or joining the Nordic Ski Club of Central Minnesota.
The drawing, which will take place in February, is for water bottles, Quarry Park annual parking permits, Wildwood Maple Syrup and gift certificates to Revolution Cycle & Ski as well as Fitzharris Ski & Sport.
The annual parking pass and maple syrup give a shout out to two of the county’s parks with ski trails: Quarry Park in Waite Park and Kraemer Lake-Wildwood Park in St. Joseph. The other two parks are Mississippi River Park in St. Cloud and Warner Lake Park in Clearwater.
“Every single park does have its own personality and its own gem,” Weed said. “Minnesota has three different ecosystems. In our parks, you can see all of them.”
Weed likes to ski Warner because of the lake and prairie. “I’m also a little biased for Quarry Park,” she said. “I’m here every day. That’s where our office is. But Mississippi River Park is also beautiful with its tall cathedral pines that you get to ski through.”
Sonja Gidlow of Avon visits Kraemer Lake-Wildwood Park in St. Joseph an average of three times per week all year, she said. Gidlow hikes, cross country skis, snow-shoes and takes her dog, Luna, for walks.
“The trees here are absolutely beautiful,” Gidlow said. “There are woods, and then there are these woods. It’s so peaceful.”
With the holiday snow fall, park crews have been out packing the trails and grooming ski tracks since Dec. 30.
“We pack first, so we have a base layer that keeps the ski track further into the season,” Weed said. “We have (more than) 10 miles of trails, so it does take time.”
Ski tracks were yet to be made Jan. 5. Winter ski trail conditions can be found on the park website. Residents also can sign up to receive an email update on ski trail conditions.
More than just skiing
The parks include multi-use trails in addition to ski trails. Trails are clearly marked with large, overhead signs at the trailhead and smaller signs along the trails.
Multi-use trails are perfect for walking, snowshoeing and biking (mountain bikes in summer and fat-tire bikes in winter).
Warner Lake Park has a new two-mile multi-use trail this year.
“If you are walking or snowshoeing, please use the multi-use trails,” Weed said. “Walking on ski trails wrecks the tracks.”
Know before you go
Parking and access to Mississippi River Park and Warner Lake Park are free.
Quarry Park requires a parking pass. Visitors can purchase a day pass for $5 or an annual pass for $20 at the park’s new pay station. Exact cash or cards are accepted.
Kraemer Lake-Wildwood Park requires a DNR ski pass for the ski trail. The pass can be purchased online at the Department of Natural Resources website.
Learn more about the Moonlight Ski Challenge and all Stearns County Parks on the parks website.
Want to try skiing?
Revolution Cycle & Ski as well as Fitzharris Ski & Sport are offering discounted rentals each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of January.
On Jan. 14, they are offering free ski rentals for the Challenge.
Jan. 14 is also Free Parking Day at Quarry Park.