This past 4th of July holiday we visited family in my hometown of Duluth, Minn., which is somewhat of an annual tradition for us. Duluth has a wonderful fireworks show, and with all the nature and activities available, it’s never a quiet visit. Often we take a day trip up the North Shore of Lake Superior to one of the many state parks. Ultimately we make our way to Grand Marais for a donut (or two) at the World’s Greatest Donuts shop and pizza at Sven and Ole’s. We’ve also taken trips to Bayfield, Wis., on the south shore of the lake; Ely, Minn., at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and Hayward, Wis., in the midst of northern Wisconsin lake country.
A visit to Duluth usually requires a stop at Brighton Beach on the Lake Superior shore, only blocks from where I grew up. Brighton Beach can be an interesting visit depending on the weather and lake conditions. One of my favorite activities is trying to set a personal record for skipping rocks—I think the low 20s is my all-time best. To set your record you need a very calm day, some good rocks, a bit of form, and some luck. This past weekend, there was no alignment in the stars for me, as the best I could do was about four skips.
My wife, daughter, and I took a hike in Congdon Park through which runs Tischer Creek. It’s just under three miles from the house I grew up in, yet it’s a hike I had never done before (set aside a brief visit to the creek during a 10th-grade biology class field experience). I recently read about the trail in Barton Sutter’s 1998 book, Cold Comfort: Life at the Top of the Map. The way he described the trail influenced me to make sure we did this hike when we visited over the holiday weekend. This short 1.5-mile hike did not disappoint!
We also took a quick hike in the Hartley Nature Center with my sister’s family, and it was fun to see the little ones—great nieces and nephews—take to the trail. It also provided a stunning view, one I had not previously experienced. I lived in Duluth for 24 years and while I did take in a lot within three miles from home (and beyond), I clearly did not explore all that was possible.These local outings got me to think about Decorah and how much we have available here in our “backyard.” I reflected on how I missed out on a park that was three miles from my home and pondered, what is within three miles of campus? I found a map and drew a three-mile radius from Dahl Centennial Union. As I looked over the map, I began to mark down from memory what is here. And the reality is, there is a lot!
I wonder how many Luther students take an opportunity to explore the many natural environments that are available just three miles from campus. I missed out on a jewel of an experience over the course of 23 years. However, once I made it a priority, it happened the next time the opportunity arose.
Recently I came across a new book, Nature Rx, that focuses on incorporating nature into programs that support student well-being on campuses. In an interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Donald Rakow, associate professor of horticulture at Cornell University, stated, "There is an incredibly impressive body of scientific evidence now that verifies the psychological, physical, and behavioral benefits of time spent in nature." These sorts of findings make me believe that getting out in nature should be a priority. I know it served me well over the weekend!
Below is a list of some of the natural areas that are a short distance from campus. Some are familiar to students, but others may be new. There are many more in the area that are just a short distance farther from campus, such as Lake Meyer and the trails at Seed Savers. Decorah’s Parks and Rec Department has many trail maps available online.
Decorah City Prairie & Butterfly Garden
Decorah Ice Cave State Preserve
Decorah Mountain Bike Trails
Dunning’s Spring Park
Malanaphy Springs State Preserve
Siewers Springs State Park and Fish Hatchery
Trout Run Trail
Twin Springs State Park
Upper Iowa River Access Areas
Van Peenan Park
Will Baker Park, including Pulpit Rock
There are many natural areas on campus, such as Anderson and Gateway Prairies and Lindeman Pond. Students can be at one of these areas in a matter of minutes. Or, if they wish, they can begin the five-mile-loop trail on campus at the Union and follow it into areas such as the Hickory Ridge Woods, Roselien Woodlands, and Hoslett Study Areas.
Of course, common-sense safety practices should be followed if students are venturing out in nature, such as letting people know where they are going and what time they expect to return, having travel partners, having proper footwear and gear, and staying attuned to weather conditions and river water levels.
I encourage students to venture out to one of these areas when time allows—or better yet, to prioritize their time to make it possible! Perhaps they will prioritize some family time to get out in nature, whether here or at home.