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Dokken: Snowshoe hike brings differing views together in the Grand Forks Greenway

The excursion would be, in some ways, an attempt to find common ground over the recent debate about snowmobiles in the Grand Forks Greenway.

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Jane Croeker, Dick O'Conner and Ron Franz snowshoe through the Grand Forks Greenway on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald
Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – A storm was in the forecast, and the wind was kicking up when four of us set out on snowshoes late Thursday afternoon, Jan. 26, for a hike through the Grand Forks Greenway to see what we could see.

Jane Croeker had organized the excursion. Also along for the hike were Ron Franz and Dick O’Conner.

I rounded out the foursome.

The excursion would be, in some ways, a hike of reconciliation, an attempt to find common ground between myself and at least one other member of the group – Croeker – whose views surrounding the recent debate about snowmobiles in the Grand Forks Greenway don’t mesh with mine.

From my perspective, at least, that attempt was a success. I think it’s safe to say that Croeker and I will never agree on snowmobiles in the Greenway, but we had a civil conversation about the issue, both during our snowshoe trek and in emails leading up to the excursion. Such discourse, we agreed, has been lacking among some people from both camps, and the Greenway snowmobile debate has become both heated and polarizing, at times.


The seeds for this snowshoe hike were planted in mid-January, when Croeker wrote a letter to the editor taking me to task for the number of snowmobile articles I’d written since the proposed route through the Greenway began making news in November.

She felt my reporting lacked balance and didn’t adequately cover other activities available in the Greenway, a long list that includes hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and birdwatching, to name just a few.

Perception is reality in the minds of readers, I’ve found, but I reached out to Croeker a few days later to highlight a few stories and columns I’ve written about some of those other Greenway activities.

She replied the next day with a friendly email, saying my points were well-taken and inviting me to tag along on a snowshoe trek, walk, ski or other activity in the Greenway.

We saw people sledding, playing in the snow, running, walking their dogs, fat and mountain biking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and skate skiing.

As a frequent user of the Greenway’s paved trails, I gladly accepted her invitation – not only to try out the new snowshoes I bought as a birthday present to myself, but to explore parts of the Greenway I hadn’t yet explored.

In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up riding snowmobiles. I own two snowmobiles – three actually, if you count the vintage 1973 175cc Polaris Colt I never drive – and I enjoy driving them whenever the opportunity arises. That being said, I have no plans to snowmobile in the Greenway and probably wouldn’t ride one in the Greenway even if they were allowed.

At the same time, though, I don’t think a designated snowmobile route through the Greenway would be the end of the world.

Personally, I told Croeker, I’ve never encountered snowmobiles first-hand during my winter Greenway hikes, although signs of their illegal use are everywhere. I have, however, had too many encounters on the paved trails with unleashed dogs and bike riders who don’t give the courtesy of a warning when they’re coming up behind you.


Unfortunately, that is the case with more than 90% of the bike riders I see out there, but that’s another story.

During the course of our emails, we also discussed a number of things we had in common, some of which I knew. Her late husband, Don, was from Roseau, Minn. – “birthplace of Polaris” and my hometown – and while he graduated seven years before I did, we definitely knew of each other. The family has had a cabin at Long Point on Lake of the Woods for decades, and more than once, I recall, Don reported catches of big walleyes caught and released for inclusion in the Herald’s “Nice Fish” listings.

Long Point is still a favorite summer getaway, Jane says – along with the Greenway – and we know many of the same people who own neighboring lake cabins.

She also shared my frustrations about the lack of bicycle etiquette in the Greenway and promised to bring up the issue during a future meeting of the Bike, Pedestrian and Greenway Advisory Committee to see if anyone has suggestions for improvement.

The winter storm was kicking into high gear by the time we got back to our vehicles that recent afternoon, but our trek through the woods had been time well-spent. Despite our differences, we had an enjoyable excursion and burned a few calories during an invigorating snowshoe hike through the Greenway.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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