Mississippi Park Connection Brings Minnesotans Outside to Celebrate Winter

By Amanda Keith posted 01-18-2017 13:42


Saturday, January 21, from 11am to 4pm (Central), Mississippi Park Connection will host the 11th annual Winter Trails Day and invites people of all ages to join them and their partners at Fort Snelling State Park in St. Paul, MN for a day of adventures in the snow. Like last year’s event, this year’s Winter Trails Day will include ice-fishing, cross-country skiing, quinzee (snow shelter) building, and hiking in the state park. All of the activities and demonstrations are free, thanks to partnerships with the National Park Service, REI, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service.

According to Katie Nyberg, Executive Director of the Mississippi Park Connection, the event was originally created to help Minnesotans escape cabin fever and “embrace winter” in the snowy Midwest. “Minnesota sometimes gets a bad rap,” she explained, adding that many refer to the state as being an “ice box, six months out of the year.”

This event however, seeks to encourage both long-standing Minnesotans and newcomers to embrace the winter and the culture that the long winter weather has inspired. That’s why Mississippi Park Connection has teamed up with both public and private partners to make the event a success.

“For this event, we wanted the bar for inclusion to be super easy,” she explained. To help people learn how to ski for the first time, or try their hand at ice-fishing, experts from partnering groups are onsite and bring supplies for people to borrow for the day.

Brian Goodspeed, a Park Ranger for the National Park Service explained that he has led ice-harvesting demonstrations at Snelling Lake for the past four years.

“All ages and abilities are welcomed and encouraged to participate,” he said. Each year, the activity, which has historic and cultural roots, grows more popular. “Visitors push and pull on vintage ice saws,” he explained. “After they have finished sawing, they sever the ice with a ‘breaker fork’.” Then, visitors continue to shape the ice at a “Do it yourself ice sculpting table.”

“People are often surprised by the beauty of the clear ice,” Goodspeed said.

And if ice harvesting isn’t your interest, Nyberg adds that there are a wide-swath of other activities to keep people active and outside for the day. Last year, they even brought ping pong tables and invited Minnesotans to surrender the idea that ping pong is an inside sport.

To help Minnesotans enjoy the full day, one of the founding partners of the event, REI, provides equipment and expert advice. “REI is a major partner every year,” Nyberg said. Not only do they bring out cross-country skis, snowshoes, and hand-warmers to keep participants having fun, they bring their staff to help people try out the equipment for the first time.

According to Mikaela Swanlund, REI Outdoor Programs & Outreach for the Twin Cities, the event was originally founded in 2007 by REI because the company wanted to give the Twin Cities community an opportunity to try different winter sports in the hopes they would find an activity they enjoyed and keep with it throughout the season.

"At REI, we believe that a life outdoors is a life well lived – in all seasons, and this event is simply a great way to celebrate winter in Minnesota," Swanlund said.

She also explained that REI often partners with the Mississippi Park Connection on local projects and that as this event grew, "it only made sense to bring their passion for the outdoors along the Mississippi River into this event, to make it even better."

If this year’s Winter Trails Day is anything like last year’s, then 2,500 if not more Minnesotans will enjoy a day outside this Saturday. As part of Mississippi Park Connection’s overall efforts to connect people to the outdoors, Nyberg said she’s excited about this year’s event and the opportunity to give people a reason to enjoy the winter and to go after all there is to enjoy outside.

For more information about the event, visit http://parkconnection.org/event/winter-trails-day-fort-snelling-state-park.


Mississippi Park Connection is a nonprofit partner of Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service. Their mission is to strengthen the enduring connection between people and the Mississippi River and build community support for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.