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Glacial Lakes Trail offers Trail Guard a jump start on their outdoor adventures

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PAYNESVILLE -- Every summer, members of the Crow River Trail Guard in Paynesville find high adventure by dipping their paddles in northern waters hundreds of miles from their homes.

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This year, they got a jump start on their outdoor adventure by trading their paddles for pedals.

And it all started at their doorsteps: The Glacial Lakes Trail that runs through portions of Kandiyohi and Stearns counties offered 10 girls and boys, ages 12 to 17, all the challenge and sense of adventure they could have asked.

"It was really fun,'' said MaKayla Gottwald, one of the youths who is now planning her own repeat of the adventure.

The youths were joined by adult leaders on an overnight, self-supported bicycle trip on the Glacial Lakes Trail. The 51-mile round trip started at the Stearns/Kandiyohi County line, and included a ride to Willmar and return to Paynesville on May 9-10. The entire trail from Paynesville to Willmar is now paved.

Gottwald said that after making the trip, she and a friend decided they will do it on their own when the weather improves.

It was the weather that provided much of the challenge on the trail. Day Two of the trip brought incessant rains and bone-chilling winds. It led the group to cancel their plans for a second night of camping and continue to push tired muscles to cover the final 10 miles to reach home.

The bicyclists felt chilled at times and some coped with cramps and aching muscles, but bicyclist Melissa Hawkinson said she doesn't know any of her friends who didn't enjoy the trip.

She said everyone felt a sense of accomplishment in the feat.

For her, the trip was a warm-up of sorts. The Trail Guard is helping her raise funds to join an extended bicycle tour this summer in Norway.

The gently rolling hills of west-central Minnesota might not offer the same scenery as do the fjords of Norway, but don't make the mistake of under-estimating the appeal or beauty of the local landscape. Tom Koshiol, who founded and has led the Trail Guards for 17 years now, said both he and the young riders were very impressed by the scenery and wildlife they discovered along the trail.

Many people associate the trail with those portions they can see from Minnesota Highway 23. Koshiol pointed out that most of the trail is far removed from the highway. The bicycle riders were counting the deer they flushed and enjoying the quiet scenes of hawks hovering over fields and woodlands; anything but watching traffic.

Koshiol said the idea of taking advantage of the trail as an outdoor adventure opportunity was only in keeping with the mission of the Guard. Since its start, the non-profit, private youth organization has been offering outdoor opportunities for youth.

Every Saturday during the warm weather months, the members of the Trail Guard earn points toward outdoor adventure trips by maintaining and improving the Nature Trail along the Crow River in Paynesville. They cash in the points to make the outdoor trips at no cost. This makes it possible for all interested youth to enjoy the outdoor adventures, no matter their family's economic situation, explained Koshiol.

The organization counts over 50 young members, with at least three dozen of them very active in it, according to Koshiol.

He firmly believes that it is important for young people to enjoy and discover the outdoors. He is just as adamant in his belief that the challenges and rigors of outdoor adventures are beneficial to character building in young people.

That's why Koshiol had no qualms about keeping the riders on the trail when Saturday's rains came, even though everyone knew that a single phone call would have summoned a caravan of parents with warm cars to bring them home.

"You take what comes,'' said Koshiol of the outdoor challenge.

For this trip, Koshiol enlisted the help of two St. Paul area bicyclists who work with youths and lead bicycle trips. They provided trail-ready bicycles for all of the youths and the parent chaperones. Each bicycle was equipped with packs known as panniers that held the group's clothing, food and camping equipment.

Koshiol said the trip showed him that the Glacial Lakes Trail represents a very accessible and safe outdoor opportunity for people of all ages. With cell phone in hand, the group was never more than a few minutes away from emergency help, he noted.

The state trail's proximity to Sibley State Park opens up its own camping and outdoor exploring opportunities. Or for those inclined, he noted that the trail's route through New London and Spicer and its anchor points in Willmar and Paynesville offer opportunities for stays at resorts, motels or bed and breakfasts.

Koshiol is hoping the Trail Guard can make another bicycle and camping trip on the trail this autumn. By then, these youths will be veterans. Every summer the group takes a Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness canoe trip and a separate, whitewater rafting adventure. They also enjoy an annual canoe and kayak adventure on Lake Koronis, and also spend a day on the challenge course at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center.

To learn more about the Trail Guard, visit their web site at www.trailguards.org.

To learn about the Glacial Lakes and other state trails, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/ state_trails/index.html.

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