Driftless Destinations and Beyond Get out and hike now…while avoiding the mud

By Lisa Brainard

Spring seems to be here. Let’s turn our faces up to that beautiful sun still shining at 7:30 p.m.

Spring seems to be here. Let’s turn our faces up to that beautiful sun still shining at 7:30 p.m. (and the lengthening days of sunshine to come), jump around with joy and raise our voices in heartfelt appreciation. We made it through another winter, or as I call it – with a nod to Medieval culture – the “Time of Darkness.” We’ve made it out the far side and deserve to celebrate.
Wait… What’s that? … Ok, that’s true. Umm, I hate to be a buzzkill, but a friend just pointed out a downside to our current season. How could I have forgotten? I know it well, and I’m sure you do, too. We’re in the unnamed, but often (unfortunately) occurring fifth season – the dreaded MUD SEASON (yes, editors, it deserves all caps).
With melting snow, late snowstorms and even more melting snow, plus spring rains – look out. You’ll find water running down trails, as well as a heaping dose of mud. Texting with my friend, she noted March and April might be her least favorite months of the year due to all the mud out and about. Many will agree with her. It’s just a big mess. So, what can you do?
I think we all want to get out and enjoy a fresh, new world after being holed up for five-plus months of winter. Perhaps changing our idea of what a trail and a hike should look like is part of the answer to the mud season dilemma. How about taking a hike on a – gasp! – paved or hard-surfaced trail? Another friend of mine tallies his hiking miles each year; he said he won’t count miles hiked on a hard-surfaced trail toward that.
Aw, c’mon. You can find plenty of these beautiful trails everywhere and especially in our greater area. You don’t just have to be on a bicycle to use and appreciate them. And speaking of that, hey bicycling friends, watch out for those on foot. If you’re coming up behind a hiker, do what you’d do when coming up on a fellow bicyclist – announce your presence so as not to surprise them.
Take me, for example. After a stroke, I walk as I can with a cane and am missing left peripheral vision in both eyes. If a bicyclist quietly came up on my left side and flew by me, I might have a heart attack right then and there when I saw them beside me out of the blue. And trust me, I don’t need a heart attack on top of all my other issues. Yet, I like/need/am told to exercise and I love nature and the outdoors. Just not mud.
Trail ideas
Trout Run Trail, Decorah. This is a natural. Get out on a portion of this loop that you like and start hiking. Take the hill by The Cut on Highway 52 if you like a good workout, as well as appreciating the geology. Or head over to the Decorah Fish Hatchery to hear the babbling sounds of Trout Run, as well as the piercing cries and looks of Decorah’s bald eagles and eaglets. Back in the old days when I lived in Decorah, I loved to walk or drive – yes, the rock slab shelf of the old Dug Road preceded the bike trail – along the Upper Iowa River below Phelps Park. https://www.winneshiekwild.com/park-trail/trout-run-trail.
Trail systems, Preston, Minn. Now I speak for my current home area. The Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail follows the Camp Creek trout stream as it heads south from Preston. I’ve always found trout stream environs to be lovely, fishing or not. Or, get a good workout on the long hill from the valley near Harmony. If you take the trail in the other direction, you’ll wind along the South Branch Root River with many bluffs providing awesome scenery. Near the Old Barn Resort, you’ll intersect the Root River State Trail. A left turn takes you along Watson Creek and a long uphill to Fountain. With a right, you stay along the river to Lanesboro. And soon after the turn, you’ll go through a rock cut on the former railroad bed. A third trail, Preston’s In-Town Trail, follows the South Branch Root River upstream for maybe a couple miles. https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/harmony_preston/index.html; https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/root_river/index.html; http://www.prestonmnchamber.com/play/recreational-family-fun/
Turkey River Corridor Trail, Clermont to Elgin. See – or better yet, step into – a life-size sculpture of a bald eagle’s nest in front of the North Fayette Valley School on this route following the Turkey River. Also, stop at the Gilbertson Conservation and Education Center just outside Elgin.  https://turkeyrivercorridor.com/land-trails/.
Shooting Star State Trail, LeRoy to Austin, Minn. It’s known for the prairie flowers and grasses along it. And it goes through Lake Louise State Park by LeRoy, which sees the Upper Iowa River dammed for a lake and former grist mill. https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/shootingstar/index.html.
Prairie Springs Recreational Trail, Cresco to Vernon Springs. https://chamberorganizer.com/crescochamber/mem_PSRT
Prairie Farmer Recreational Trail, Calmar to Cresco. https://www.winneshiekwild.com/park-trail/prairie-farmer-recreation-trail
Freeport Trail, Decorah to Freeport. https://www.winneshiekwild.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/2017-Paved-Trails1.pdf
You get the idea. Each of these trails and many others offer far more than I could list here. Enjoy mud season on the relatively comfortable, non-muddy, hard-surfaced trails. Get yourself in shape for the natural-surface trails and their flora and fauna that await when the mud is gone. 
Happy hiking!
Lisa Brainard remains in active pursuit of all things outdoors, despite a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. 

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