A life changing adventure can begin right here

Natalie Warren (in bow) and Ann Raiho paddled upstream on the Minnesota River in 2011 at the start of their 2,000 mile adventure to Hudson Bay.

MONTEVIDEO — Natalie Warren and Ann Raiho celebrated their graduation from St. Olaf in 2011 by setting out on a 2,000 mile adventure.
They became the first women to follow Eric Sevareid’s route from “Canoeing With the Cree’’ and paddle from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay.
Neither left their studies at St. Olaf behind them thinking that their educations were only to begin, but that proved to be the case. Every day on the Minnesota River provided lessons on the state’s history and cultural heritage, thanks to the people they met and the places they saw. And every day, they learned about and witnessed the many water quality and land-use issues that are central to our discussions today.
Ann Raiho had grown up in Minnesota, but was surprised every day by all that she learned on the 330 miles of upstream paddling on the river, said Warren.
Now Warren, originally of Miami, Florida, and two partners are planning to make the Minnesota River a summer classroom for other young people.
Warren, Nick Ryan and Anna Johnson have created Wild River Academy. The three met in Washington D.C., but are opening their venture in Minnesota with plans to lead high school age students on trips on the Minnesota River. Lessons on science and history will be woven into the trips. They will have a focus on agriculture.
Warren said they hope to visit farms along the way to educate young people about the importance and challenges of agriculture.
Since the 2011 trip, Warren has been (and continues) to offer presentations on the adventure. Her story inspires people of all ages to explore and enjoy our outdoors.
There is no matching the real thing. Warren said the “experiential learning’’ opportunities possible on the Minnesota River can be life changing.
Warren and her partners were in Montevideo on Thursday to start laying the groundwork for their summer plans. They are especially interested in contacting teachers and others throughout the region interested in helping young people experience the outdoors.
They are looking for people who can help them introduce young people to the science, history and cultural heritage that can be learned along the way. They also welcome sponsors and other support.
To learn about the Wild River Academy, or contact Warren for a presentation, check out the website: www.wildriveracademy.com

– Tom Cherveny

Anglers venturing out for first ice opportunities on lakes in Kandiyohi County

Anglers are venturing out on foot to enjoy early season ice fishing opportunities on lakes in the Willmar area.

Anglers are venturing out to enjoy some of the season’s first ice fishing in Kandiyohi County.
While caution is always a must, there are reports of four inches of good, solid ice on some of the area’s larger lakes. It’s adequate for foot traffic, but not strong enough for four-wheelers or other vehicles.
The best ice is found on the area’s larger lakes, such as Green, Diamond, Nest and Eagle, according to Brad Foshaug, Brad’s 71 Bait, Willmar.
He said earlier this week that anglers are reporting the ice on some of the shallow, prairie lakes is questionable. He advises staying to the larger lakes where the ice formed after last weekend’s heavy snowfall.
As to be expected, anglers are tight-lipped about the fishing, but it’s not hard to figure out. “I’d say the fish are biting,’’ said Foshaug, who added that he was kept busy filling the bait buckets of anglers.
As conditions can always change, it’s always a good idea to check ahead with your favorite bait shop for information on ice conditions and where the fish are biting.
The Minnesota DNR offers these ice safety guidelines:
4 inches for walking
5 inches for snowmobile or ATV
8-12 inches for car
12-15 inches for a medium-sized truck

A polar explorer’s legacy may be as first to inspire action

Will Steeger is famous for his firsts in polar expeditions, but said his legacy may be as the last able to reach the North Pole by dog sled.

WILLMAR — We know Will Steeger as a modern-day polar explorer who earns a place in history for impressive firsts.
He led the first confirmed expedition to the North Pole by dogsled without re-supply in 1986, and was the first to cross Antarctica by foot in 1990.
During a visit to Willmar on Tuesday, he expressed his own surprise at realizing that his legacy will not be his much-celebrated “firsts,” but for being the last.
He’s the last of the polar explorers to travel by dog sled to the North Pole.
“Believe it or not you can no longer travel to the pole by dog team because of the open water,’’ Steeger told a small gathering before his public presentation at Vinje Lutheran Church. “In order to get to the pole you need some form of floatation, kayak, canoe or sled that floats.’’
A couple of hours later, some 360 people filled the church to hear the famous eye-witness to climate change.
Climate change is showing itself in dramatic ways in the Arctic.
Until five years ago, some 90 percent of the Arctic Ocean remained snow and ice covered through the entire year. Last year, two-thirds of the ice- nearly an area the size of the United States- broke up.
In Greenland, many of the glaciers are sliding into the ocean at the rate of 15 miles per year.
The equivalent of two, Amazon Rivers gush from the melting ice in the summer months.
“The changes I’ve seen are biblical. It is hard to find words for it,’’ said Steeger during his talk prior to the public event.
We are all becoming witnesses to global climate change, said Steeger. He noted that scientists predicted that global climate change would show itself first through the dramatic changes being witnessed in the arctic regions. They also predicted it would be followed by an increasing frequency in weather extremes in mid-latitude regions, such as Minnesota.

Beverly Crute was among those who stepped up to take part in the forum hosted by Will Steeger at Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar on Tuesday.

We’re certainly seeing the extremes in Minnesota, according to Steeger and J. Drake Hamilton, a scientist with Fresh Energy who also spoke in Willmar. They pointed to the record books that show the average temperature in Minnesota has been rising at a rate faster than the global average, and that the incidence of torrential rains has increased by 50 percent in recent years.
They provided a sobering account of the science documenting climate change, but also offered encouraging news on what is being done to reverse it. Steeger’s ultimate legacy may be not as the last to witness climate change in the arctic, but as the first to inspire people in Minnesota to action.
He is optimistic that we will respond. Seeing the size of the crowd in Willmar supports his outlook.
“I am totally convinced that the time is right now in Minnesota,’’ said Steeger to the small group before the public presentation. “We can sit around the table and look at the science, at the problems, and then figure out what we’re going to do about it and start building our new economy.’’

Hunters harvest 17 anterless deer during special muzzleloader hunt in Sibley State Park

Sibley State Park has offered a special muzzleloader hunt since 1992. It still attracts some traditionalists with flintlock rifles, but the majority are carrying modern, in-line muzzleloaders.

NEW LONDON — Hunters harvested 17 anterless deer during the special muzzleloader hunt offered in Sibley State Park last weekend.

This year’s hunt saw 46 hunters on Saturday and 41 return on Sunday. There were 50 permits available.
Park Manager Jack Nelson called the harvest a respectable number given the deer population in the area.

The hunt began in 1992 as a four-day hunt, and was originally held in December. The first year saw a harvest of 88 deer, but numbers in recent years have been in the lower 20’s.

The hunt is now a two-day event, and held on the first weekend of the muzzleloader deer season in the state. The hunt was moved to an earlier date so as not to conflict with snow-based activities such as skiing and snowmobiling, noted Nelson.

John T. Hutchinson of rural Benson demonstrates a traditional flintlock rifle in this Tribune file photo.

In 2001, a December hunt at the park was cut short by a record, 30-inch snowfall.

The hunt is offered to help the park manage the deer population and protect again over-browsing, according to the park manager.

It is also offered with safety in mind. Keeping the deer herd in check reduces the risk of car-deer collisions in the area.

Nelson said the hunters reported a positive experience. While the success rate wasn’t as high as some year, all of the hunters Nelson spoke to told him they saw deer moving and had opportunities.

– Tom Cherveny

The sequel to a successful hunt

A local husband and wife each were able to obtain wolf licenses, and both returned from a deer hunt near Two Harbors with wolves.

NEW LONDON — There’s a sequel to last week’s story about the first wolf taken by an area hunter and brought to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife office station in New London.
The hunter, who asked not to be named due to the harassment some successful wolf hunters have received, returned to the hunt with his spouse. She also had a wolf license in the state’s first organized wolf hunt, and as the photo shows, was successful as well.
The hunter was too. While he was happy to harvest a wolf this year, his main goal was to take home a nice buck, and he did, a 10-pointer.

— Tom Cherveny

Measuring a hunt’s success by the smiles

Zach Smisek of Otsego harvested his first deer – a trophy – in the youth hunt offered at Sibley Park.

NEW LONDON — There were a few nice antlers, including one set for the wall, but Sibley State Park Manager Jack Nelson is measuring the success of this hunt by the smiles, and understandably so.
Nelson saw lots of smiles as Sibley State Park hosted its first-ever Youth Deer Hunt on Oct. 27 and 28.
There were nine youth participants, each accompanied by an adult mentor. They harvested five deer, four of them bucks and one doe.
All of the youth saw deer on the move. One hunter’s dad told Nelson they counted 25 deer. Another young hunter tallied 18.
The hunt is offered as an opportunity to introduce young people to deer hunting, and to hook them. Plenty of studies show that early success is what helps galvanize a young person’s interest in hunting in later years, said Nelson.
Being able to hunt in Sibley State Park obviously improves the odds not only for success, but to see deer and actually learn by doing. The youth and their adult mentors took time prior to the hunt to find and identify deer sign and scout out their sites. They devoted time to learn about their quarry and develop a hunting strategy. They learned that preparation and knowledge can matter more than sheer luck.
There’s not always the opportunity to learn these skills during the regular deer firearm season, when there’s a hunter on every stump and deer are running with their tongues hanging. Too often in this situation, it’s luck that matters most.
Perhaps what mattered most of all during this hunt is that the youth and mentors “got it,’’ said Nelson. He was impressed most of all by the camaraderie shown by the group, their ethics and respect for the sport, and the one-on-one relationship of parent and child. It wasn’t about helping their kid get a big buck, said Nelson. “It was about getting out and passing on this hunter tradition to the next generation.’’

– Tom Cherveny

Early waterfowl opener proves a good one in region

Just about everything played into the favor of waterfowl hunters on the opener last Saturday and rewarded those who were ready at first light.

NEW LONDON — Waterfowl hunters enjoyed one of the better openers in recent memory, with reports of limits filled and lots of action being the norm in the region.
Jeff Miller, assistant wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in New London, said he heard from many hunters in the area who had a big day on Saturday. The action slowed on Sunday.
He noted that quite a few hunters told him they packed up by mid-morning on Saturday, their limits filled.
The same was true on Marsh Lake, where John Wollenberg and Dan Zimmerman with the DNR’s Lac qui Parle wildlife office surveyed hunters. They were still tabulating the numbers when reached earlier this week, but said it was apparent that hunters enjoyed a good opener.
Wollenberg said he believes the average tally will be just over three ducks per hunter.
The number of hunters on the popular waterfowl hunting lake was up as well.
Blue winged teal, mallards and wood ducks comprised the majority of ducks taken in all locations. .
The DNR was aiming for a good opener when it set the opening date about two weeks earlier than normal. The earlier start gives hunters more opportunity to harvest local ducks before they migrate out.
The decision to allow the opening shooting to start one half hour before sunrise, instead of 9 a.m. as had been the case in previous years, benefited hunters too.
Most of all, the weather played right into the hands of hunters on Saturday. A cold front moved plenty of waterfowl into the area. The blustery, northwest wind and cloud cover made for ideal conditions.
The drought conditions also dried up many smaller wetlands and served to concentrate the waterfowl.
The action has slowed since the opener, and the lull is likely to persist. The forecast calls for continued mild weather without the cold fronts needed to move new birds into the area this week.
The split season means that waterfowl hunting (duck and goose) will be closed from Monday Oct. 1 through Friday, Oct. 5 in the central zone south of Minnesota Highway 210 and from Oct. 1 through Oct. 12 in the southern zone south of U.S. Highway 212.

– Tom Cherveny

Deer hunting’s missing generation

Gage Lippert harvested this eight-point buck last December with his new muzzle loader.

NEW LONDON — Hunting, fishing and conservation groups and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are all doing more to introduce young people to the outdoors.
We want to give young people the life-long rewards that come with discovering the outdoors, and we know what’s at stake. We need young people to be the good stewards who protect our resources going forward.
Those are some of the points made by Michael Kurre, director of the youth mentoring program for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Sibley State Park is offering its first youth deer hunt this October 27 and 28 as part of the effort to introduce young people to the outdoors.
Our state’s deer hunting heritage remains strong.
We are holding our own when it comes to the number of deer hunters.
Yet there are reasons for concern. The numbers are skewed. There may be as many deer hunters as ever, but it’s an aging population and we are losing the old hunters at a fast rate.
We are seeing good recruitment of young hunters, but we are lacking hunters in the mid-range ages, said Kurre. “We kind of skipped a generation there,’’ he said.
It’s a gap that is difficult to fill. Deer hunting is very much a family situation for most. “It really is hard to bring someone in from the outside into your deer camp, so it makes it a little more challenging,’’ he said.
That’s why the DNR is placing more emphasis on offering special hunts and working with sports and conservation groups to make possible more opportunities for people of all ages to enjoy deer hunting. We need to fill the gap and assure that there is a steady progression of generations keeping and passing on this important and rewarding outdoor heritage.

— Tom Cherveny

A summer’s disappearing act

Visiting a Primitive Management Area is an opportunity to see areas of the wilderness few others will.

ELY— We followed in the footsteps of Outward Bound until their tracks disappeared.
So did the trail.
We were not caught by surprise and continued on, disappearing into the wilderness by intent.
By our own choosing, we paddled and made our way through two Primitive Management Areas as part of a two-weeks long Boundary Waters Area Canoe Wilderness adventure this summer.

There are obstacles on the way, and trails and campsites that once existed are no longer maintained.

The BWCAW is a popular destination for over 200,000 people a year. A quota system for the entry points to this sprawling wilderness distributes the visitors. People who are willing to paddle and portage are still able to find the quiet and wilderness experience they desire.
Those who really want to enjoy a backwoods, wilderness experience also have the opportunity to visit the 12 Primitive Management Areas dispersed throughout the BWCA. Roughly 100 groups per year will attempt it.
The PMA’s are not advertised by the Forest Service, and purposely identified by the oddest named lake within them. Fungus Lake, Weeny Lake, Mugwump Lake and Hairy Lake are among the PMA names.
Trails and campsites are not maintained in them, and as we discovered, many of the old portages are indeed disappearing as windfalls and newer vegetation fills them.
Users need a special permit to camp in PMAs, and must practice a Leave No Trace ethic. Good compass skills are a must, as is a willingness to work hard. It’s hard enough to carry a canoe and packs with two weeks of food on a maintained portage. Harder yet when walking around windfalls and moving through dense brush.

We occasionally encountered local residents on our way.

The rewards are many. We enjoyed a wilderness experience otherwise only found in northern Canada, without the lengthy drive or costly bush plane flight.
It was in a PMA that we saw our only bull moose on this year’s trip. It was also in a PMA one previous year that I had the opportunity to watch a wolf give chase to a deer along a shoreline.
We gave chase to walleyes in a couple of the PMA lakes, and were well rewarded for the hard work it takes to reach these remote areas.

– Tom Cherveny

Heat causing some fish die-offs in west central Minnesota

The hot weather is blamed for northern pike die-offs reported in Willmar and Foot Lakes as well as Mud Lake north of New London.

SPICER — The record heat wave has caused fish kills across southern Minnesota, and fisheries personnel with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Spicer are keeping a watchful eye on local lakes.
As of earlier this week, the area had escaped any reports of large or widespread fish kills, according to information from Dave Coahran, fisheries supervisor in Spicer.
However, there have been die-offs attributed to the hot weather.
Conservation Officer Jeff Denz responded to the discovery that several dozen northern pike had died in Willmar and Foot Lakes in Willmar. There was a similar report of a northern pike kill in Mud Lake north of New London.
There were also reports of a walleye kill in Wood Lake, located south of Granite Falls. Coahran said there were reports that numbers of walleye had also congregated and were very lethargic, to the point that they could be scooped up.
Fortunately, no reports have been received of tullibee die-offs in either Green Lake or Koronis Lake, according to the fisheries manager. The two lakes are among the southern-most of lakes in Minnesota capable of holding tullibee, also known as cisco.
If warm conditions reduce the oxygen level in the deeper, cooler water they prefer, the fish will rise. Large and medium-sized tullibees are vulnerable if the upper water is too warm.

— Tom Cherveny