Jim and Dave wear hats to keep the sun off their skin.
We’ve had a pretty off and on summer, so far. For every day that has been a scorcher, there’s been another day that’s overcast. One week of sunburn weather and then another week of rainy indoor weather. In fact, our wonderful Eco Campers and Turtle Trek Campers have gotten the brunt of both rainy days and fun in the sun!
Neither “Natural Deficit Disorder” or “Vitamin N” are actual medical terms but rather two phrases coined by Richard Louv. The author of “Last Child in the Woods,” “The Nature Principle”, and “Vitamin N,” and co-founder of the “Children and Nature Network,” Louv claims our culture is experiencing a crisis of nature withdrawal. Today’s kids spend over 50 hours a week on an electronic device and 90% of their time indoors. But it’s not just the vilified electronic device to blame for the nature deficit, there is also poor urban design, a culture of fear, and the emphasis on organized sports. Our rural and small town locale mitigate the impact of the “concrete jungle” and the fear of neighborhood violence, but for some families, it still takes an effort to find a safe, natural environment for play. However, the rewards are worth the effort:
In our last post reviewing the Brainerd Lakes Area beaches, I wanted to go to a beach that I had never been to before. I wanted to experience it like a rookie. Living in the area for most of my life proved it was difficult to find a public beach in the five county region that I haven’t been to before.
After looking online and on maps, I was surprised to find Dower Lake Recreation Area. I was even more surprised to find that it’s a pretty good beach. Minus the drive (around 45 minutes from Brainerd…with a stop for snacks), it’s not too far to enjoy.
Dower Lake Recreation Area
As you can see, the beach isn’t too big but seemed to have enough space for all. The kids were initially concerned with the lily pads encroaching on their swimming area but found that the plants stayed away.
So far, we’ve focused on the beaches in Crow Wing County. It seems a little unfair to focus on the ones closest to Brainerd when there are dozens of beautiful beaches thirty minutes out. So, we grabbed snacks and supplies and drove the construction-riddled journey up Hwy 371 to Pine River to visit not only the Pine River Dam Park but also two (count ’em TWO!) beaches on Pelican Lake near Breezy Point.
Pine River Dam Park
The Pine River Dam has been in use for over a century, and it has been used a place of congregation and celebration for nearly as long. Pig roasts, wedding receptions, and more recently, the world famous duck races have all been held near the dam in Pine River. The curved bench area has been a meeting place for decades, and the location has only been getting better over the years.
Three of our four 2017 Freshwater Friends Eco Camps are in the books. Our campers have ventured on field trips, eaten straight from the garden, and learned a bit about our environment.
Here’s a small glimpse of the adventures our Freshwater Friends have had over the last few months:
1st-2nd Grade – Loons (June 12-16)
The trip to Serenity Now Alpaca Farm had mixed feelings.
Dave W. introduced the neat idea of hydroponics.
There was even time for swimming at Sand Lake.
Nora showed off the fish at the Crosslake Dam.
I found out that Crow Wing County only has four “public” beaches in the county limits: Gull Lake, Lum Park, Whipple Beach, and Serpent Lake Beach in Crosby. That’s it. You would think that with how much the BLA relies on our lakes for business and recreation, that there would be a larger emphasis on public beaches.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a closer look at the beaches that are a bit outside of town on the east side of Crow Wing County.
“Kahnah’ bek” is a sight to see.
Crosby has been undergoing a sort of renaissance, one which has allowed the area to be noticed on a national scale. The little town boasts world-class mountain biking, upscale eateries, and has been a fisherman’s paradise for years, and it’s only a matter of time before the region’s best-kept secret starts to draw more visitors from out of town.
Green grass is a perfect way to get some sun.
Wonderful News! The broccoli and cauliflower are beginning to grow heads. The peas are climbing and carrots are growing. The bean plants are looking great. The potato vines are reaching for the sun. The squash, pumpkins, corn, and watermelon are coming along. We’ve got red romaine, spring mix lettuce, tomato plants, and pepper plants growing in our hoop house. More harvest is on its way.
Garlic scapes are a unique way to add flavor to your dishes.
Basil is a new item in your bag. Use it as soon as you can, the flavor fades quickly and it is difficult to keep them fresh. To store, wrap loosely in a damp (not wet) paper towel and seal in a ziplock bag. Place it in the warmest part of your fridge, either in the door or on the top shelf. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them. Chop with a very sharp knife or use scissors. It’s best to add fresh basil at the very end of cooking, after you’ve removed your pan from heat, to preserve its delicate flavor. Or even better–use it fresh. Sprinkle on a green salad, a fruit salad, scrambled eggs, or pizza. Add to any cooked dish right before serving. Enjoy!
They don’t call it the Brainerd Lakes Area for nothing. As we get into the dog days of summer, there’s no better time to make use of the area’s namesake. But before you double-check your packing list and apply your sunscreen, take a moment to see which beach might fit your needs. I grabbed my kids and we spent a hot afternoon doing a little research of the area’s best beaches.
Gull Lake Recreation Area
Clean sand welcomes all sand castle builders.
Ever since the early 20th century, Gull Lake has been a destination for loggers and fishermen. Gull Lake has since become a premier destination for tourists from around the state. Featuring no fewer than three world class resorts, pristine waters, and shorelines for miles, Gull Lake is the jewel of the BLA. So, you can see why the modest little beach sitting just north of the Gull River outlet is no surprise.
One thing you should be aware of first is that since the entire Gull Lake Dam area is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, there is a $5 daily auto parking fee to make use of the facilities. But, it’s money well spent, in my opinion.
You can see how little the actual beach area is at Gull Lake.
The first thing you’ll notice is the amount of green shaded area surrounding the beach. You’ll notice it even more when offset by the narrow beach area. This is, as they say, a feature of the beach. You’ll be shaded while staying out of the water, enjoying your picnic, or playing a game of volleyball.
At 120 miles, the Paul Bunyan State Trail is the longest recreational trail in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Natural Recourses Parks and Trails Division recently (three years ago) added over six miles to the southern tip of the trail. For just $1.2 million, this connected the Lake Bemidji State Park in Bemidji to the Crow Wing State Park just south of Baxter.
I wanted to show that this little jaunt is a worthwhile use of your time. So, last Sunday I took my Gary Fisher road bike and hit the trail. I live just off of the Buffalo Hills City Trail on Graydon Ave. I was able to connect to the trail by riding west past Central Lakes College on College Dr (which is part of the PB Trail at that point) until it hits the Hwy 371 bypass.
You can see how the PB Trail hits Baxter right in the commercial section.