Jenny Bradt speaks to the Chatfield City Council about Lost Creek Hiking Trail events of 2013, reviewing what changes were made to the trail and its programming. (Photo by Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy)
Jenny Bradt speaks to the Chatfield City Council about Lost Creek Hiking Trail events of 2013, reviewing what changes were made to the trail and its programming. (Photo by Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy)
Jennifer Bradt loves to go trailing.

"The creek that is about a third of a mile into the trail from the Ninebark trailhead continues to run, and the sound of running water in the middle of winter is a rare treat," said Bluff Country Hiking Club (BCHC) secretary Bradt, speaking of her favorite winter stop on the Lost Creek Hiking Trail.

"This is the most picturesque part of the trail in any season," she continued. "There is a blowhole about two-thirds of a mile into the trail. The air coming up is warmer than the air outside, so there is usually a beautiful frost on the surrounding trees. I like the winter because you can see so far and appreciate the limestone bluffs. I also love the way that on clear days with new snow, the shadows the trees cast across the snow look almost blue."

Bradt reminded the Chatfield City Council and those listening that the trail is open four seasons of the year, with the exception of the fifth season, hunting season.

"In addition to panoramic stillness, the Lost Creek Hiking Trail offers educational adventures, beginning with the soil and growing toward the sky to include the trees and native flora and fauna in between," she said.

The Ninebark trail register was signed 38 times since August of 2013, with 25 original people or groups.

The Opat Bridge trail register was signed 93 times with 60 original people or groups.

"However, I think this captures only a part of the activity," Bradt told the council. "I know it is hard to take off your mittens when it is as cold as it has been, so there are fewer signatures in the winter. I guess I would have to say the trail is used a couple hundred times during the year, and the (Fillmore County) Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has placed many signs on the trail. They also created a brochure explaining many features and put pictures of leaves for tree identification on the pamphlet as well. It is a terrific resource."

Last year was a good year for the Lost Creek Hiking Trail, according to Bradt, who noted that improvements were made and BCHC events were well attended.

"We are very proud of the new steps that were completed by the Minnesota Conservation Corps," she continued. "The steps are buried in snow now. They are located fairly deep into the trail and it is fun to see them deep in the woods. We have not changed the route or length, but I am surprised by how many trees fall down with the wind, and this changes the way things look fairly often. We do our best to keep everything cleared."

She added, "All of our events were attended by more participants. We hope that these events continue to grow in popularity, specifically the Candlelight Snowshoe Hike and the Fall Run/Hike."

The BCHC will have a busier schedule this spring through fall, as more events are planned, and the annual Chill Fest Candlelight Snowshoe Hike "went very well," with approximately 20 hikers.

"We had nearly 20 participants, despite the very cold weather, and many were snowshoeing for the first time," she said. "We will have our usual events, but we'll also have a spring trail run."

Bradt explained that the spring run will be held on May 17. There will be registration and a small participation fee. The event will be timed, and awards will be given to top finishers. The race will start at Ninebark Road and finish in Groen Park. Details about the start time and the registration process will be coming soon, she added.

National Trails Day is set for the first Saturday in June and Bradt pointed out that it's open to anyone with a moment to hike and who wishes to photograph the items on the scavenger hunt list.

"This is a photo scavenger hunt. The reason for having this event planned on 'your own time' is that National Trail Day is always the first Saturday in June and that is a busy graduation week for most people," she said. "So anytime during that weekend, participants can take pictures and submit them to the contest."

The fall Trail Run/Hike will continue to be a free and untimed event, she also told the council. "We're having it as a Halloween trail run...this year, we would like to encourage costumes, making this a Halloween run. We would like to also offer a shorter kids' run/hike on the same day to involve entire families as well."

Bradt shared that the trail is "unique in that it exists because of the generosity of private landowners," and that it is "maintained by a group of Chatfield residents, in their own time, using mostly their own resources."

She elaborated, "Without the landowners, there would be no trail. I have so much gratitude for those who have allowed us to hike their land. It is important that hikers continue to follow the rules we have posted on the signs to allow the trail to continue to be successful."

Bradt said if there are maintenance issues, hikers are encouraged to contact BCHC members, as they do their best to keep it in great shape even though maintenance becomes a challenge each year in the early summer as the undergrowth usually explodes within a two-week period of time. "We have to get out and mow the areas that have more sunlight," she said.

This winter's snow will remain along the trail until very late spring, Bradt speculated. "It will take quite a while for everything to thaw out. Usually, the packed-down trail becomes fairly slick until all the snow can melt. Also, each spring the melting snow swells the creeks, so watch to make sure the trail is open," she said. "If a bridge has been flooded, we will post the 'Trail Closed' sign on both ends. Last year, this happened in May and the trail closed for about one week until the water was down and the bridges put back into place."

Even if it's still below 40 degrees at the end of March, the trail, if clear enough, is a calmer place to be. "At any time of year, being in the woods moderates the weather. So, if it is windy, it won't be quite as windy on the trail. If it is hot out, it won't feel quite as hot as it would elsewhere. There are no street noises or cars. And, you see something new with every hike," Bradt described.

She concluded that the BCHC welcomes new members anytime. "We are always interested in gaining new members. Please contact me at jenniferbradt@msn.com if you are interested."

Lastly, snowshoes are available through Chatfield Community Education - log onto www.chatfield.k12.mn.us and click on the "Community Education" tab.