Alexandria area boasts unique trail

ALEXANDRIA - You may be trailing a glacier each day without knowing it. The Alexandria area boasts distinctive geological, historical and cultural landmarks, all eager to be explored. An ideal resource to witness this wonder is hidden right befor...

ALEXANDRIA - You may be trailing a glacier each day without knowing it.

The Alexandria area boasts distinctive geological, historical and cultural landmarks, all eager to be explored. An ideal resource to witness this wonder is hidden right before your eyes - the Glacial Ridge Scenic Byway.

This unique trail winds its way through 245 miles of road in five different counties, including Douglas. It explores the diverse natural beauty - lakes, streams, woodlands and prairies - and the rich history and culture native to this area.

This labyrinth of trails has no set route, no beginning and no end. You can meander wherever, whenever, and however you want. There is an abundance of recreational activities awaiting you.

"You can gear your exploration to your interests," said Sara Stadtherr, lodging bureau coordinator for Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality. "It doesn't have to be something you do all in one trip. Even if you just have an hour to kill, you can still experience it."


Exploring the trail

The trail offers something for everyone.

For enthusiasts of the great outdoors, four state parks are located on the trail - Lake Carlos, Glacial Lakes, Monson Lake, and Sibley. The byway also passes by four Nature Conservancy areas - Moe Woods, Leif Mountains, Ordway Prairie, and Shepberry Fen. Each of these parks and conservancy areas offers pristine scenic beauty, wildlife, and recreational activities.

Numerous paths, bike trails, golf courses, family resorts, and local attractions in Douglas, Pope, Swift and Kandiyohi counties are also located right on the Scenic Byway.

Brochures with information on attractions, activities and history can be found at the Chamber of Commerce, the Historical Society and parks. They include maps of the trail, highlights, and even a birding guide for wildlife aficionados.

"This trail is unique because it doesn't go from point A to point B like most trails do," said Dean Schmidt, WesMin Resource Conservation and Development coordinator. "It circles, figure eights, and loops around the area. You can see old cabins, [Kensington] Runestone, scenery, lakes, woods, prairies, wildflowers and so much more."

Ice age

More than 10,000 years ago, thousands of feet of sheer ice, loaded with geological rubble, encrusted the Alexandria area. The influence that glaciers had on the landscape is as evident as ever, and can be enjoyed by everyone.


The Alexandria Glacial Moraine complex boasts prime examples of the work of glaciers - kames (glacial ridges), kettles (depressions), and eskers (elongated glacial deposits). These formations are more familiarly known as the lakes and hills that proliferate the countryside. These are what remained after the glacier halted and melted, leaving behind massive amounts of debris.

History of the trail

According to Schmidt, the history of the trail dates back to 1968 when a group of involved citizens envisioned the creation of a trail connected with the glaciers and topography of west central Minnesota, which would also promote the natural and historic assets of the area.

They formed the Glacial Ridge Development Association, which has been working toward that goal ever since.

According to its mission statement, the organization "works collaboratively with local governments and organizations to strengthen the image and develop the resources of the Scenic Byway." It also works to promote, preserve, enhance and interpret the rich culture, history, scenic beauty and recreational resources of the region of the Glacial Ridge Trail Scenic Byway.

Plans for future

The Glacial Ridge Development Association has many plans to enhance the trail in the future. Recently, it received a grant through the Minnesota Department of Transportation for $86,000 to be used for historical and informational signs.

"These signs will be tied to the trail, so when people want to see something scenic or historical or geological they can read them along the way," said Schmidt. Signs should be designed by December.


According to Jerry Johnson, District 1 Commissioner, "These grants are something that can be expanded on. There's an awful lot of history out there."

Meanwhile the group has plans for a Model-T tour of the area September 24-26, and hopefully fall color guided bus tours in the fall.

"This is a lost trail - a unique diamond in the rough," said Schmidt. "There is more to this than meets the eye, more than just seeing a sign every once in awhile. There is so much more to it. People won't believe what they see."

Stadtherr added, "If we can get the local people to know about the history and the importance of the trail itself, the more it will become statewide known. Encouraging them to hit the trail, see the history, to say, 'Lets go for a drive.' This is a great resource locals need to know about."

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