Curt Johnson: Try Minnesota for that shorter family vacation
School is out and the family's thoughts turn to vacation. Where can you go that will offer something to please every member? Recent surveys indicate that more people are taking their family vacations in the family car and people indicate they don...
School is out and the family's thoughts turn to vacation. Where can you go that will offer something to please every member?
Recent surveys indicate that more people are taking their family vacations in the family car and people indicate they don't want to travel more than a day from home. That's a perfect formula for exploring Minnesota.
One such "family friendly" area is an easy jaunt in the "family-mobile" and offers countless adventures for everyone.
Leech Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish (or "Winnie"), some of the most expansive waters in Minnesota, are in the heart of the Chippewa National Forest. The dense woods and sparkling lakes of the forest give the area a near-wilderness character, but those who vacation here will find all the comforts of home.
The numerous lakes are favorites for anglers searching for walleye, northern pike, bass, muskie and panfish. Sailing and boating are also popular. Dozens of family resorts and campgrounds are tucked into the forest, near the small communities of Cass Lake, Bena, Longville, Remer and Hackensack, as well as the town of Walker.
Several small rivers and lakes are perfect for canoeing, and reward paddlers with views of eagles, loons, waterfowl and other wildlife. The Chippewa Forest has the highest concentration of bald eagles anywhere in the continental United States -- almost 200 pairs. There's a wide variety of birds in the forest, a lure for birders.
The Chippewa Forest has visitor information and naturalist programs at centers in Cass Lake, Walker and at Cut Foot Sioux Lake.
Naturalist programs at the Deep Portage Conservation Reserve near Hackensack also detail the plant and wildlife of these north woods. Hackensack is the northern point of the newly-paved, 46-mile Paul Bunyan Bike Trail. Cyclists can also head west from Walker on the 28-mile Heartland Trail, and several forest roads and trails are designated for hiking as well.
The town of Walker, on the shores of Leech Lake, is a hub of activity with its restaurants, craft shops and boutiques, waterslide, golf courses, festivals and history museums.
A side note to the Leech Lake experience. Winter at Leech Lake brings with it a much-heralded yet very unusual festival in Walker that pays homage to disputably the world's ugliest fish called the eelpout.
And when you are on your motoring vacation in Minnesota, keep a special eye on the road. Spare a turtle on a Minnesota road in June and motorists will help future turtle generations as well.
That is the recommendation from Carrol Henderson of the Department of Natural Resources.
"Turtles crossing roads at this time of year are egg-laden females," said Henderson, the DNR's nongame wildlife program supervisor. "Turtles need help to safely reach their nest sites to produce future generations."
Henderson recommends that motorists watch for turtles crossing roads near wetlands, lakes and ponds during the next two weeks. The turtles will be seeking nest sites on sandy riverbanks, fields, road embankments and even lawns. According to Henderson, species most likely to be seen on roadways are snapping turtles, painted turtles and the threatened Blanding's turtle. Female Blanding's are most active in late afternoons and at dusk.
Johnson, who works with the Minnesota Office of Tourism in St. Paul, can be reached at (651) 297-3488 or via e-mail at email@example.com