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Minnesotans, on three things about their spring outdoors passions

Apr 07, 2018 04:11PM ● Published by Editor

Here is how the trout angler, hike, gravel rider, trail runner and birder think about spring. 

By Mackenzie Lobby Havey and Bob Timmons 
Star Tribune - APRIL 6, 2018 

John Lenczewski, 55, Eden Prairie, Minnesota Trout Unlimited executive director

In spring, I think casting dry flies over steadily feeding trout, and the excitement of southeast Minnesota streams coming alive with splashing trout. After a winter of feeling the subtle tugs of trout grabbing my wet flies, I get pumped seeing everything happening on the water’s surface. I watch the lengthening days and warming water trigger a series of hatches of aquatic insects, aka flies, drawing trout up to feed. I watch little mayflies disappear into the rings left by rising trout, and float my imitations over their noses. I have the satisfaction of watching my dry fly vanish into a trout’s mouth — and realize that spring has arrived at last.

I am drawn, too, to the energy unleashed by spring snowmelt on the North Shore. I grab my heavy fly rods and wet flies and head north for steelhead fishing. It’s like a world away from the southeast. The fishing is equally compelling. When the snow is long gone in the southeast, I chase the ice and snow out 300 miles north to swing sunken flies for steelhead that swim up swollen rivers from Lake Superior. The sense of urgency I feel about steelheading is like nothing else. Old friends and river acquaintances join me to celebrate the arrival of the first steelhead. The fish pass upriver in sporadic waves, pausing briefly. I have to keep moving to intercept them. We follow the leading edge of spring, and the steelhead which herald it, northeastward from Duluth to Canada. The fleeting nature of the fishing only intensifies the excitement.

Springtime leaves me torn between these two regions. Thankfully, I choose both and keep two sets of fly rods in the car until June. I admit that most of my precious fishing time is spent chasing steelheading. The transition from winter to spring is so compressed and I can’t bear the thought of missing it. In a matter of weeks — even days — North Shore rivers go from ice-locked to open channels, to roaring snowmelt, to dropping and warming flows. The spring sun warms water temperatures a few degrees and triggers the surge of steelhead upriver from Lake Superior. Yesterday’s empty pools and runs suddenly hold steelhead, which pause long enough to grab my fly and give me a spirited fight. South or north, spring is a great time to cast a fly for trout.

Trail running

Robyn Reed, 43, Minneapolis

Pathologist; vice president, Upper Midwest Trail Runners board of directors

The great thing about running trails is the close relationship that you have to the turn of the seasons and the passage of the year. When I went out for a run on a snowy Sunday morning not long ago, even though the temperatures and conditions were still wintry, I noticed that new birds were singing. Along with the earlier sunrise and longer afternoon daylight, it’s the first indicator that spring is on its way.

It’s a delicate time of year for the trails, so spring is the season I have to think about where to run the most carefully. I love the hiking trails at Lebanon Hills, the horse trails at Elm Creek Park Reserve, and the snowshoe trails at Afton State Park. I carefully follow the mountain bike clubs’ postings because I love running mountain bike single-track, but this time of year it’s often closed due to the soft surfaces. It’s important that runners respect those closures, too. Same thing with the cross-country ski trails — as long as they’re groomed, I stay off them. But I look forward to the snow melting, and running them again.

Running trails puts me in close contact with the day-to-day changes that mark the coming of spring. I get front-seat tickets to the snow melt, the migrating and nesting birds, the strutting turkeys, the budding trees. It gives me an intimate sense of how the season is changing and makes me feel like a part of it. The other cool thing is that running outside makes me less fearful of bad weather. I’ve run for hours in chilly rain, smelling the soil and feeling the water soak in, and now I know that’s something I can do and I’ll be fine.

Birding

Greg Jahner III, 36, St. Paul Park

Business analyst, Brooksource

As an avid birder, spring fuels my passion for seeing birds locally and across the state. Migration begins to heat up in March and lasts through May. During winter, there’s generally a limited and more-predictable number of birds to see, with fewer true rarities. When spring arrives it feels like the most massive game of hide-and-seek that has ever been played! Not only am I looking for the birds I would expect to be in a particular area, but I now have the added bonus of possibly finding birds out of their normal range. That scenario is a driving force for many birders to seek out every corner of their targeted region in hopes of stumbling upon the lone hider that shouldn’t be there.

Much like the birds returning to the same summer places for the next few months, spring also brings a reunion of many birding enthusiasts. Birders from across Minnesota will unknowingly reunite at various times trying to track birds in the same area. It’s a crazy thought when you think that some of the places birders visit in Minnesota can be up to an eight-plus-hour drive and be hundreds of acres in size yet we all seem to find each other year after year. Reunited birders eagerly exchange tips on birds they’ve seen so far this year and birds they still need to see, and then part ways until the next sighting.

If you talked to just a handful of birders you would quickly conclude that we are creatures of habit, particularly when it comes to the places we bird. Yes, we will travel across the state or, for some, the continent, but the other 95 percent of the time we’re routinely hitting up our “patch,” which is just a collection of birding hot spots with good habitat that may be close to home or work. We’ve claimed it as our home court. When I think of spring, I start planning out my patch visits, which includes multiple visits to the Grey Cloud Dunes, a Scientific and Natural Area in Cottage Grove. It’s the place to be during spring migration. I’ve seen 190 different bird species on its 140 acres (more than 40 percent of the bird species ever reported in Minnesota). The third annual daylong birding event at Grey Cloud Dunes begins at 6 a.m. May 19. We will log more than 100 different species seen in a single day. The count is free and open to anyone, regardless of level of birding knowledge. Guided hikes start every hour.

Gravel riding

Drew Wilson, 35, Stewartville

Founder/owner of Cyclocarbon carbon bike repair; founder of Dickie Scramble gravel race

The thing I like most about riding in the spring is the different terrain. You get a completely unique experience when you’re on the back roads. If you’re on a gravel road in southern Minnesota, you get a great sense of where you are. It’s pretty intimate riding those hilly, narrow roads going through farmland and past changes in vegetation. When you’re driving on the highway in a car, it’s generally flat and the views are often boring. I really like to see new places, and I think that riding a bike provides the best perspective to do that.

Some of my favorite places to ride are in southern Minnesota, like the Lanesboro area, the Zumbro Bottoms area, and Whitewater Valley. Any of those river valleys that head toward the Mississippi, like the Root or the Zumbro, are really cool. You ride up these huge bluffs from the river — it’s the most interesting part of southern Minnesota. And there’s always more to see and new ways to connect places.

Riding roads for the first time is the best. If you try to make back road routes using Google, it’s amazing how many aren’t on the map. Too, spring weather is unpredictable. We’ve had events that are 90 degrees with 30 mile-per-hour winds and events that are in the low 30s with rain. You find plenty of adventure out there, and enduring those things is part of the appeal. When you spend the whole day on your bike, you feel different about that day compared to other days. There’s something magical about it.

Hiking

Louise Holden, 76, Savage

Retired, Richardson Nature Center volunteer

I love spring in Minnesota. My favorite place to hike in the metro area is Murphy-Hanrahan Park Reserve in the Three Rivers Parks District. There are miles of hiking and, in the spring, migrating birds and beautiful early wildflowers. It’s a hot spot for birding in the spring. Even on a beautiful day, you’re lucky to meet only two to three people out there. There’s so much uniqueness in nature when you go out and get away from people, buildings and noise.

Unpredictable spring weather is just part of the adventure. I’ll hike in almost anything unless it’s really windy and about zero degrees. It all depends on what you’re wearing. You can hike in almost any weather year-round.

Hiking outdoors gives me a sense of peace and wonder. I especially like the solitude of hiking in the woods, as opposed to the prairie. My mind just floats and wanders, and I think about all kinds of things. It’s wonderful. I’m so thankful for the women and men who were instrumental in setting aside nature for all of us to enjoy.

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