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Tamarac hosts grand opening of new trail through Becker County

Though many might have found Saturday’s unseasonably cool and overcast weather a bit less than inviting, it was, as Ray Vlasak put it, “a perfect day for hiking.”

That was good news for Vlasak and his fellow members of the North Country Trail Association-Laurentian Lakes Chapter, as Saturday marked the official grand opening of a new 21-mile segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail through Becker County.

The Laurentian Lakes chapter of NCTA has been working on completing the 21-mile trail segment for the past year, said Vlasak, who serves as president of the chapter.

“Last year we were able to build a lot more trail than what we typically accomplish, because we received a couple of Legacy Fund parks and trails grants,” Vlasak said.

Those grants enabled the chapter to hire workers from the Conservation Corps of Minnesota to assist them with building the trail.

“We were able to build the trail all the way through Tamarac (National Wildlife Refuge), plus about six miles east of there,” Vlasak said. “All together we were able to do about 21 miles of trails.”

That accomplishment was particularly impressive, he added, because there were a total of 31 new miles of trail built on the North Country National Scenic Trail last year — “and 21 of them were right here in Becker County.”

The trail project was the culmination of a long-term planning process that involved not only NCTA members, but also officials from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Minnesota Historical Society.

One of the requirements for getting a Legacy parks and trails grant, Vlasak said, was to complete an extensive archaeological review that involved ground-level surveying of the entire trail segment.

“We had to go through a very detailed review process,” he said. “But ultimately, Barb Boyle (former Tamarac Refuge manager) was very supportive of the trail, which probably had a lot to do with its eventual approval.”

One segment of the new trail includes a 966-foot boardwalk across an existing spruce bog, Vlasak said. Though the boardwalk was constructed to protect the bog, “it also gives you a very unique hiking experience to walk across that area,” he added.

In another area, they had to construct a turnpike along a segment of the trail adjoining Tamarac Lake to make sure that the soil around some existing archaeological artifacts wasn’t disturbed.

“It ended up being a pretty significant effort, which is why it was thought that it ought to be celebrated,” Vlasak said. “That’s what we did on Saturday.”

The celebration actually began on Friday, however, with a free presentation from renowned Minnesota naturalist and wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela in the Frazee High School gymnasium.

That presentation, on “The Lives of Wolves, Coyote and Fox,” was attended by about 150 people — which is approximately how many people were on hand for Saturday’s celebration at Tamarac as well, Vlasak said.

The celebration also happened to coincide with National Trails Day, said Kelly Blackledge, visitor services manager for Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.

“We have 14.7 miles of the 4,600-mile North Country Trail that goes through Tamarac,” Blackledge said. “We got a lot of different people out on the trails on Saturday and introduced them to some different sections of the North Country Trail, in hopes that they will continue to enjoy them throughout the summer and for years to come.”

From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, volunteers the NCTA-Laurentian Lakes Chapter and the Friends of Tamarac NWR served as co-leaders on a series of themed hikes along different segments of the new trail.

“We had different hikes leaving at the beginning of each hour,” Vlasak said — with the exception of 10 a.m., when a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to officially dedicate the new trail.

A big cake was also served to those attending the ceremony, in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.

The first guided hike, which left at 8 a.m., was a 14½-mile “Trek Across Tamarac,” which as the name implied, led hikers from one side of the refuge to the other, along the new trail.

“All of the hikes were along sections of the North Country Trail,” Blackledge said.

Other hikes were organized for those interested in birding, history, photography, “hiking with GPS” and “hiking with kids.”

For those who had never really experienced hiking before, there was also a one-mile “Taste of the Trail” hike which began immediately after the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

This hike included opportunities to view a variety of habitats, as well as to sample some natural foods and beverages such as jams and jellies made from fruits that grow on the trail, as well as “a rose-hip tea made from wild roses that can be found along the trail,” Blackledge said.

“All in all, we had a great weekend,” Blackledge said. “Considering the weather, I think we had a terrific turnout.”

“It was just a great day,” Vlasak added. “We had a big tent out there and there were a lot of people coming and going.”

He was particularly surprised to note that people came to the event from as far away as Brainerd and Fargo-Moorhead — not to mention all the officials who were there for the ribbon cutting, many of whom stayed for the hikes as well.

Just a short list of the dignitaries in attendance included: Tom Melius, Midwest Regional Director for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Mark Weaver, National Park Service superintendent of the North County Trail; Bruce Mathews, executive director of the North Country Trail Association; and Nathan Caldwell, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service national roads and trails coordinator.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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