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Snowshoe event allows 60 to experience refuge in the winter

So what’s the best way to spend a late-January Saturday in North Dakota when the sun finally shines?

2/02/11 (Wed)


So what’s the best way to spend a late-January Saturday in North Dakota when the sun finally shines?


Join nearly 60 other people who braved icy road conditions to snowshoe on the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge.


“I can’t believe I had such a good response,” said Jennifer Jewett, outreach and education coordinator at the Des Lacs NWR. “I couldn’t say no to anybody, so we added a second session!”


Jewett wanted to determine interest in the area for refuge programs, so she borrowed 37 pairs of snowshoes from the Audubon NWR and advertised the free snowshoeing event. She had calls from Kenmare, surrounding communities, and from as far away as Mandan.


Several participants had their own snowshoes to use, so Jewett had plenty of equipment for two sessions.


She also had help from Tighe Teets, the refuge officer for the Souris River Basin Complex stationed at the Upper Souris NWR, and from Doug Downs, fire management officer stationed at the Des Lacs NWR.


As families and couples gathered for the morning and afternoon sessions, Jewett divided them into small groups according to their snowshoeing abilities and interests. Downs led a cross-country trek, covering three to four miles, from the refuge office south to the Brickyard Hill. Teets took his groups on an intermediate trail into the lower end of Tasker’s Coulee, and Jewett paced the beginners along the Boat Dock Road north of town.


Visitors of all ages were delighted with the opportunity to see the refuge in the winter, especially on a sunny day with little wind and air temperatures in the single digits. “We came out here for the adventure,” said Kenmare seventh grader Dalton Petersen, “and to get to see nature.”


“I’ve always wanted to learn,” said Joyce Solberg of Minot, who started with the beginners while her husband joined the intermediate group. “I thought this would be an easy way!”


Dave McDermott, a 1964 KHS graduate now living in Minot, and his son Justin, had purchased snowshoes but never tried them. “We do a lot of hunting up here,” McDermott said, “and we wanted to see how these would do for walking across the snow.”


Melting conditions earlier in the week put a crust on the snow that proved challenging, especially to the people wearing snowshoes for the first time, but the groups were rewarded for their efforts with views of whitetail deer, coyotes and winter birds such as nuthatches, waxwings and chickadees. Refuge staff pointed out evidence of summer beaver activity, recent porcupine feeding and signs of other wildlife, including moose and owls.


After spending nearly three hours on the trail, the groups met back at headquarters to discuss their treks over hot chocolate and cookies. Everyone was smiling, whether over the stories of crazy falls in the soft snow, the hills they learned to negotiate or the glimpses of wildlife they had.


One woman from Minot, who considered herself experienced with snowshoes, said she hikes around her yard and alley, Oak Park and the Souris River Valley Golf Course. “I can tell you this was harder than the Souris River Valley Golf Course!” she said.


“Prior to today, I wasn’t sure what my ability level is,” added another visitor. “Now, I know what I can do.”


Allen and Ruth Kihm of Minot heard about the snowshoeing day through the Souris Valley Birding Club. “I hope they do many more programs, whether it’s snowshoeing or other programs,” said Ruth, who has also participated in the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s Becoming an Outdoors Woman courses. “This is a good place, with good people.”


A group of teachers from Minot traveled to the Des Lacs refuge for the event. “I come up here and golf in the summer,” said one. “Now I have a reason to come in the winter, too.”


Visitors talk snowshoe styles,

want more programs

at the refuge

Teets and Jewett spent time describing several types of snowshoes and the uses for each, including the more traditional Alaskan, Green Mountain and Algonquin styles made of ash wood and the modern shorter versions with crampons cast in aluminum.


“It depends on what you want to do, as far as what type of snowshoe you’ll be using,” said Jewett.


Teets recommended the aluminum style, which require less maintenance, for walking on hills or through rocky terrain. However, he suggested the wooden models for open landscapes or powder snow conditions. He also pointed out various types of bindings, and cautioned people to stay away from cheaply-made rubber or plastic styles.


“I’m glad we had the opportunity to try the different snowshoes,” Solberg said. “I like the individual attention we had.”


Several visitors asked about having another similar program at the Des Lacs refuge, but Jewett said the snowshoes were already booked for two different sessions at the Audubon NWR in February. “If we have more interest, maybe we can get them back,” she added. “I’m thinking about writing a grant to get some here!”


Kenmare fifth grader Dakota Petersen grinned as he talked about the fun he had trying hills on the trail. “I would definitely go again if had the chance,” added his brother Dalton.


The boys’ mother Melissa Petersen smiled as she predicted she would soon be shopping for her sons. “I can hear them now,” she said. “Mom, we need snowshoes!”


Guests also asked about access to the refuge trails for their own use. “Each refuge has some designated spots and trails that stay open to the public,” Teets said. “Any of the public roads can be used.”


For the Des Lacs NWR, he listed the Boat Dock Road and the Lower Lake Road, although some drivers have been making their way along that stretch of gravel through the winter months. The Canada Goose Trail is also open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing but the parking area is not cleared during the winter.


The Tasker’s Coulee trail from the Brickyard, traveled by the intermediate groups during the day, is not normally available. Teets explained those areas are open during hunting seasons to individuals who have hunting permits for the designated seasons, but not to the general public. “We’re not like a state park where there’s all kinds of recreation,” he said. “Here, wildlife comes first, and human activity second.”


Jewett suggested that persons interested in snowshoeing on the refuge contact her at the office for more details about the availability of the trails. She can be reached at 701-385-4046 extension 221 during regular office hours.


She also expressed her gratitude to all the families and individuals who supported the refuge’s first snowshoeing event. “We’re glad you took the time to come up here to the refuge,” she said. “We know it’s a little hidden treasure!”


Trekking up the Boat Dock Road . . . This group of beginning
snowshoers, including (l-r) Dave McDermott, Justin McDermott,
Joyce Solberg, Dakota Petersen, Dalton Petersen, Melissa Petersen
and leader Jennifer Jewett, looks confident after only
a few minutes on their new footwear.




Smile while you're bushwhacking . . . Tighe Teets (left),

refuge officer, asks his group to show some fancy footwork

and balance while taking a rest from breaking new trail

through a wooded area at the lower end of Tasker's Coulee.

This group covered between three and four miles in the

afternoon, including a stream crossing.