Steps are being taken toward creating a Minnesota Driftless Hiking Trail, which is very exciting for area residents and visitors. A group of interested people attended Dinner on the Bluff: “Towards a Minnesota Driftless Hiking Trail” at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center on February 11.
Presenter Marty Walsh, who visualized the hiking trail and is spearheading the project, explained how he came up with the idea and the details of the proposed hiking trail.
“I have been in Community Economic Development for a long time,” stated Walsh. He has also volunteered in other trail building efforts around the region, as he personally knows the benefits of hiking trails. “I am an avid hiker myself and when I left the county, but still had time to work on a project like this, it just really naturally came together,” Walsh noted.
The proposed Minnesota Driftless Hiking Trail would be a 110+ mile hiking trail focused on backpacking. The trail would reach from Chatfield, Minn., to the Mississippi River through Bluff Country in the Driftless Area of Minnesota.
“Since it’s a back-country trail it’s not that super-paved, mowed and cleared every day,” explained Walsh. The trail would be supported and maintained by volunteers, but areas will be kept in much of their natural state, which only adds to the experience.
After seeing the success of the Lost Creek Trail in rural Chatfield, Walsh is hopeful that he can take that same concept and make it bigger, similar to the Appalachian Trail or Superior Hiking Trail.
The trail would be run in its own vein, although it would very briefly join the Root River State Trail for approximately three miles from outside Lanesboro to Whalan, and possibly horse, snowmobile, bike and other trails, when apt.
The plan is for the hiking trail to use a combination of public land and roads with low traffic, but they are hoping that partnerships can be formed with private landowners for the majority of the trail, giving users a true backpacking experience.
According to Walsh, there is no trail like the one he is proposing within three or more hours of Lanesboro, and to reach a really long trail, a person would be looking at 8-10 hours of driving. A trail such as this could bring people from all over the country and beyond to experience the Minnesota Driftless Area in a new and adventurous way.
“This would be the closest trail over 25 miles for millions of people and a really great opportunity,” stated Walsh.
Landowners will be pivotal in the creation of this hiking trail. There will be no land acquisition requests; instead they use Recreation and Conservation Easements. There will be benefits for landowners as volunteers make improvements on the land preparing for and maintaining the hiking trail.
Walsh and a colleague did a test hike in June 2020 where they hiked 25 miles of existing trail, road walk, and public land access. They started at eagle bluff and ended the hike by Newburg.
“It was an amazing experience,” Walsh said.
They did learn a few things, including that they needed to cache water, so they hid gallons of water in secure places along the way.
The Minnesota Driftless Hiking Trail will be modeled on the Ozark Trail, Long Trail and the Superior Hiking Trail. They are currently seeking a 501(c)3 status, and until that happens they are creating partnerships with other non-profit organizations who will act as their fiscal agents.
Also attending the presentation were Andy and Stena Lieb, the first private landowners who have committed to working with Walsh and his team to make the trail happen.
“Our biggest need is land access. More than money, more than volunteers, we need people who are willing to share their land with us,” said Walsh.
There are many possibilities, for outdoor enthusiasts, landowners, the local economy and more if the Minnesota Driftless Hiking Trail becomes reality.
For more information on the Minnesota Driftless Hiking Trail visit MNDriftlessHikingTrail.org.