Column: Theres plenty to do in the great Minnesota outdoors

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 17, 2006

Dick Herfindahl, Water and Woods

This past Friday we experienced one of our heaviest snowfalls in recent years.

It is funny how the first significant snowfall of the year seems kind of nice until it keeps coming and coming and coming. While the snow was piling up I could almost imagine my back groaning and saying

&045; No! No! Stop! Stop! But it didn&8217;t and I, with the help of my trusty old scoop made it

through the first big night of shoveling.

After a fresh snowfall I find myself looking at the clean fallen snow and finding a sort of tranquility, especially at night with a moon shining on the countryside with a fresh clean blanket of fallen snow.

Call me crazy if you want to but I think that this is a big part of what I like about living in Minnesota. The winter driving and the shoveling, the slow groan of a car that&8217;s too cold to start and whatever other winter obstacles that are encountered are things that I think of as minor inconveniences.

Walking outside in the fresh fallen snow on a crisp winter night can bring about a certain feeling of being right with nature. Sub zero temperatures have a way of creating noises that you never hear any other time of year.

When I think back to when I was a kid delivering newspapers I can almost hear the crunchy, almost squeaky sound that the old four-buckle overshoes gave off as I trudged through the frozen snow. I was bundled to the max with layers of clothes, mittens, a stocking cap and a scarf half-covering my face. Even as a kid I thought there was something special about being outside on a clear crisp winter night.

With this in mind the Minnesota DNR is offering something that could turn out to be a great adventure for outdoors enthusiasts.

Visitors to Itasca State Park this winter will have a new option for lodging. Twelve modern, two-room suites in Itasca Suites will stay open year-round for the first time during the winter

months.

&8220;The Itasca Suites make a perfect winter getaway,&8221; said Assistant Park Manager Paul Wannarka. &8220;Skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers can literally hop on a trail right from the door. Weekdays are a perfect time for an extended stay in the suites, because trails are less busy.&8221;

Each suite accommodates one to four people and includes two queen-size beds, desk, dining table, kitchenette, two-burner cooktop, refrigerator, dishwasher, color television, phone and couch.

Each unit also has a porch, and two suites are wheelchair accessible. The rate is $115 per night. Suites can be reserved on the state park reservation Web site at www.stayatmnparks.com.

&8220;The suites have the comforts needed to provide relief after a long day of exploring the park,&8221; Wannarka said. &8220;And you can&8217;t beat the beauty, peacefulness and solitude of Itasca in winter. The sound of the wind in the majestic pines coated with freshly fallen snow; it truly is a winter paradise.&8221;

Itasca has a host of naturalist programs planned throughout the winter months, including kids activities, Friday science programs, evening lantern walks and animal tracking lessons.

The park also has 32 miles of cross-country ski and snowmobile trails and three miles of designated snowshoe trails. Ice fishing is another popular winter recreational activity along with bird watching and photography. Itasca also accommodates winter camping with 30 campsites in the Pine Ridge Campground; 15 of those sites are electric.

Showers and modern bathroom facilities are closed during the winter months, however. Vault toilets are available throughout the park.

If you like the Minnesota outdoors like I do this could be a chance to try something a little different. If you&8217;ve never experienced the beauty of this part of our state you are missing out.

This is a beautiful area but being there in the middle of winter puts it in a whole different perspective.

Until next time good luck, play safe and enjoy the outdoors experience. Remember to keep the troops that are serving our country in your thoughts and prayers.