Fortunate we were some years ago to have Ed Stone as our guide.
Since 1979, he’s lived in a home surrounded on three sides by Renville County’s Vicksburg Park along the Minnesota River.
Stone has a keen eye and well-developed appreciation for the natural world and especially, this bluff land wilderness. He led us atop granite outcrops that offered stunning vistas of the Minnesota River, and pointed out locations where he’s called to great horned owls and whippoorwills. He showed us cacti in full bloom on the granite outcrops, and led us down steep trails to the locations on the Minnesota River where anglers find the best action. Others, he pointed out, seek these locations simply to enjoy a picnic or the quiet of the riverside.
There are miles and miles of adventures like this waiting in Renville County’s seven parks, in particular those along the Minnesota River.
The county is now on the verge of adopting a master plan to develop a hiking trail system that will open the parks to those who appreciate these opportunities, and don’t have a guide like Ed Stone waiting to lead them.
Mark Erickson, community and environment director for Renville County, told the Renville County board of commissioners recently that the county park board and a specially-appointed trails committee have developed a draft plan for developing a marked trail system in each of the seven parks.
The plan outlines the routes for trails in each of the seven parks. It also describes how the trails will be signed and sets standards for the width of trails and how much vegetation to clear.
There are currently some maintained trails in the parks, but for the most part hikers are making their own way by following long-established paths. Many of the existing paths are really well-tread deer trails that hikers keep open by their use.
The trail committee and park board have been working to develop a plan for a developed trail system for just over three years ago now, Erickson told the commissioners. Parks maintenance director Andy Lang has already completed much of the ground reconnaissance for the proposed trails.
There’s a long ways to go, assuming the county adopts the plan as hoped.
Erickson noted that currently, the parks workers are too busy from Memorial Day to Labor Day to do anything but maintenance work. Trail development would occur during the off-season, as time allows.
He is also hopeful that the county will be able to find some outside assistance. There is the possibility of finding grant funds as well as recruiting workers from the Minnesota Conservation Corps.
There is no way to know how many people visit the parks to hike the trails, but there is no doubt. Hiking in the parks is a popular activity
A developed and maintained trail system would also open the parks to more usage during the winter. Input gathered at this year’s county fair showed that many park users would like to see trails for snowshoeing and cross country skiing, Erickson told the commissioners.