Paul Bunyan State Trail, the nation’s longest continuously paved trail, starts at Crow Wing State Park and continues for 110 miles to Lake Bemidji State Park. The final connection into Crow Wing State Park happened in 2014, after years of work by Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota among others.
Between 2003 and 2006, P&TCM acquired 144 acres along the Mississippi River near Crow Wing State Park that would do double duty—adding land to the park and providing a corridor for the trail. “It is especially satisfying to know that the Mississippi River frontage we’ve helped preserve will provide endless hours of enjoyment to both current and future generations,” said P&TCM’s then executive director Dorian Grilley in 2006.
Located at the confluence of the Crow Wing and Mississippi rivers, Crow Wing State Park is a mix of woodlands, oak savannas and prairies that serve as a haven for wildlife. The park contains remnants of a frontier town and a section of the historic Woods Trail that was once part of the Red River Ox Cart Trail system that connected the City of St. Paul to Red River Valley settlements.
According to Terry McGaughey, P&TCM’s project manager for the acquisition and a leading authority on the trail’s history and development, it is only fitting that the final connection between Crow Wing State Park and the Paul Bunyan Trail consist of Mississippi River frontage.
“The signature of the Paul Bunyan Trail is its woods and its waters,” McGaughey said. “The 110-mile trail passes nine rivers and streams and along the shorelines of 21 lakes.” The segment between Crow Wing State Park and Brainerd is perhaps one of the most scenic parts of the trail. It is also key in connecting people between the tourist town of Brainerd into the park.
Former U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who was an avid bicyclist and frequently rode the Paul Bunyan Trail, was among the first to praise the Parks & Trails Council for its steadfast commitment to protecting and expanding Minnesota’s parks and trails in 2006. “Once again the Parks & Trails Council has saved a place with great significance,” Rep. Oberstar said. “From the extraordinary Mississippi River views, to the old growth red pines and mixed hardwood forests, to the glorious native prairies, this vital trail connection will produce lasting memories for the ages.”
Banner photo by Ken Ratcliff