Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

No hiking for us on icy state park trails February 28, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A view of frozen Rice Lake at Rice Lake State Park on February 19. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

IN THEORY, THE PLAN seemed a good one. Randy and I would hike in a nearby state park on February 19, the first of four “free entry” days to Minnesota’s 75 state parks and recreation areas.

Mid Saturday morning, we packed sandwiches, fruit, granola bars and almonds for a picnic lunch, although we would eat in the comfort and warmth of our van. Temps in the 20s do not allow for outdoor dining.

Wildflowers abound in the woods at Rice Lake State Park in this spring-time photo. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

Originally we intended to drive to Carley State Park south of Plainview. It’s a park we have not visited. But part way there, I suggested we wait. A description of Carley’s Whitewater River-hugging Wildflower Trail and Virginia bluebells carpeting the forest floor in May prompted the change in plans.

Randy reads signs about waterfowl posted by the lake during a May 2020 visit to Rice Lake State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

Instead, we aimed for Rice Lake State Park some eight miles east of Owatonna. We’ve previously been there, although not in winter. Following back paved county and gravel roads, I already envisioned hiking the park’s trails along frozen Rice Lake. I imagined the quiet of the woods, the beauty of the snow-covered landscape. Such were my expectations. I also felt excited to participate in the Rice Lake State Park Challenge, a special free entry day event that involved finding passwords to claim a possible prize.

Walking into the woods at Rice Lake State Park in the spring. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

When we pulled into the park, I checked in at the park office for a map and the challenge entry form. As I was about to leave, the park staffer warned, “Be careful, the trails are icy.” I would soon discover for myself just how right she was in that assessment.

Rental canoes are stacked next to the parking lot and lake. The trail we took started at the edge of the woods near lake’s edge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The snow-packed, icy parking lot offered the first clue to conditions. I carefully stepped from the van, draped my camera strap around my neck and aimed toward the lakeside trail. Not even part way there, I was already grasping Randy’s arm. As someone who’s broken her right shoulder and left wrist in falls (the last requiring surgery), I have no desire to fall and break a third bone. Note that neither occurred in winter but rather in May and June and involved a missed step inside a hospital and a rain-slicked wooden step in a friend’s backyard.

On the way back to the van, I spotted these apples in the snow. Deer food? (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

At the beginning of the trail at Rice Lake State Park, I paused, observed and assessed that, yes, the trail was, indeed, icy. But I was willing to try, hoping conditions would improve. They didn’t. Soon Randy and I found ourselves crunching through the snow aside the trail rather than traversing the ice-packed path. Not even 20 feet in, Randy advised that perhaps we best turn around. I agreed.

Lake and sky meet at Rice Lake State Park during a spring visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

Disappointment filled my thoughts. I didn’t realize how much I had anticipated this time in nature, in the woods, by the lake. And now…plans would pivot. We realized conditions would likely be the same at other state parks. So we headed west to Owatonna for that picnic lunch and more.

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TELL ME: If you live in southern Minnesota, where can I find clear trails for winter hiking? If you live elsewhere, where do you like to hike this time of year?

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FYI: Minnesota has three more upcoming “free entry” to state parks and recreation areas in 2022. Those dates are April 23, June 11 and November 25. I highly-recommend a warm weather hike in Rice Lake State Park. It’s especially peaceful.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling