Top Brainerd Area Parks

This month, we’re focusing on helping you get outside more. I took this as a chance to see what my town had to offer in terms of outdoor activities. I also wanted to make this as inexpensive as possible, so I limited my exposure to the long list of parks in the Brainerd area.
We started in Baxter and moved east. After 14 different parks, we decided what we liked best about them and what most people would get a kick out of. Brained/Baxter has a pretty robust parks system, so every park we went to was enjoyable, well maintained, and clean. But, we narrowed them down to the top 10, plus a bonus park (in no order of preference).

Three children climb on a tree

1) Gregory Park –

Gregory Park is probably the most well-known park in the area. It is nestled in a nice neighborhood to the north of downtown Brainerd. It has historically been a staple in the town, hosting seasonal events such as “Arts in the Park,” car shows, and get-togethers. Consisting of four square blocks, Brainerd organizations and residents make us of its large green space. With fundraising already happening for a splash pad to be installed in the park, Gregory will continue to be a favorite.


Best Reason to Visit – Historical Connection

Gregory Park is steeped in history. It has been the focal point of north Brainerd for over a hundred years. The things that stand out for Gregory Park are the little remnants from the past. The Parker Bandstand is a mainstay. The arches at the north and south entrances to the park are entrenched in locals memories. If you want to connect with Brained on a historical level, Gregory Park is the place for you.

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Summer’s More Fun With Friends Spots

Here’s a few promotional shots we did.

Some production notes:

1) I wanted to make these have a little more somber feel to them. Last year, we did something like it and I wanted to recreate the slight ennui that our counselors would have without our Eco Campers. However, Michelle H. (counselor in the kayak) convinced me that we should do a few “happier” takes to see how it looked. I agreed and we got a shot of a take I wanted and a few that she wanted. In the “Kayak” spot, I thought it worked so well to have the before and after to show how the tagline (“Summer’s More Fun With Friends”) is true.

Nora Waving on Sand Lake from a kayak Pine River Minnesota

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It’s About Time (or What to do in Minnesota in the Summer)

For anyone who lives in Minnesota, you know that summer is when everyone is eager to enjoy what our great state has to offer. Home of thousands of lakes, hundreds of miles of trails, and thousands of acres of forest, there is no shortage of “stuff” to do this summer.

Do you have your plan on how will you get to it all? Is it even possible?

Yes. It is. All it takes is one simple trick. But first, let’s look at the concept of “time.”

In the “Nick of Time”

What is “time”? Can we actually perceive “time” as something tangible? Philosophical giant, George Carlin said, “There’s no present. There’s only the immediate future and the recent past.” To be sure, we rely greatly on our memories to perceive “time.” What did we eat for breakfast? Who won the horseshoe tournament last summer? Did I just take a sip of water? These events can be recollected, so they must be part of what we perceived.

But, what about the concept of the recent past. When does the recent past transition from “now“? The concept of “now” lays on a razor edge. Some pocketwatchsay that “now” is actually in the past. Carlin sure thinks so! Indeed, your brain perceives “now” at an 80 millisecond delay. But, some think that we have a little more leeway, more like three seconds in which “now” is “right now“.

So, we’ve got about three seconds to experience something before it becomes memories. But, how do we maximize these experiences before they become relegated to “the past.” After doing some research, I found that each separate group of “three seconds” are not collected equally. In order to maximize our “time”, we need to actually be engaged in our activities. These “three seconds” intervals feel longer if we actually have memories stored in them.

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Nature Notes: Turtle Crossing!

As May comes to end, we’ve seen a dramatic transformation of our landscape. I was out of town from May 12th-20th and was shocked by the changes upon my return! It’s a jungle out there! Everything has leafed-out, the grass is green, and the flowers are blooming. The woods are filled with birdsongs and are wetlands are alive with the chorus of the frogs. It’s a busy time in the animal kingdom; animals are finding mates, laying eggs, giving birth, and/or raising young. Our turtle species are also occupied with this survival need at the moment.  Turtles lay their legs on land, so females must take on the dangerous journey of coming out of the safety of the water to dig a nest and deposit eggs into it. Males rarely travel far from the water, but a female may venture up to a mile away from water to find the perfect spot to lay her eggs. This journey usually requires her to face the hazards of cars on roads near our wetland habitats.

A study from a student at Clemson University found a frightening percentage of drivers actually swerve out of their way in order to run over turtles on the road, which is hard for me to even fathom! Why would anyone want to do this? The student, Nathan Weaver, put a very realistic rubber turtle in the road, hunkered down out of sight of the cars, and recorded their interactions. In one of his locations, one out of every 50 cars ran over the turtle and, shockingly, nearly 70% of the cars that hit the rubber turtle did so deliberately.

We’ll find turtles on the roads from now until about mid-summer, but mostly during the month of June. Up here in our neck of the woods, the two turtles that are seen mostly commonly are the beloved Painted Turtle and the more feared Common Snapping Turtle. Snapping Turtles are very large in size and can weigh up to 35 pounds. For some reason, (such as serious damage to your car), people seem to be able to avoid these behemoths, as I rarely see injured or dead Snapping Turtles on the road. Unfortunately, I do see a lot of injured/dead painted turtles on the road, so please be on the lookout for turtles while you are driving!


Snapping Turtles are MN’s largest turtles. With powerful jaws and a long neck, they can quickly lunge out and strike at prey, or a threatening human hand!

Why don’t turtles just lay their eggs closer to the water to avoid crossing the road? As it turns out, a female’s decision about where to make her nest can have a huge impact on her offspring! The sex of young turtles is determined by the nest temperature during a particular phase of egg incubation. In Painted Turtles, temperatures above about 83 will typically produce females while temperatures lower than that will typically produce males. Therefore, if the turtle picks a place that has relatively thick vegetation cover providing shade, the soil temperature will be lower and more likely produce males. If she picks a spot that is relatively uncovered, the sun will raise the soil temperature, likely producing female offspring. Snapping Turtles apply the same principle, but backwards; lower nest temperatures typically hatch females, while warmer spots hatch males.

In May, it is not uncommon to find tiny Painted Turtles making their way towards the water. As these turtles do not start laying eggs until May and it takes between 50-80 days for the turtles to develop in their eggs, this is too early for these tiny turtles to be from this year’s clutch. Instead, they are turtles that hatched at the end of last summer or early last fall but did not emerge from the nest. Sometimes, the young hatchlings overwinter in the nest and emerge to travel back to the water early the next spring. Years with cold temperatures and little snow cover for insulation can be devastating to these overwintering hatchlings.

baby turtle

This little guy was found in the first week of May, sure to be a hatchling from the previous summer’s nest!

Female Painted Turtles lay between 3 and 20 elliptical (oval) eggs in their underground nests. Female Snapping Turtles lay up to 100, but usually 25-50, spherical eggs in their nests. The difference in shape can be a useful identification clue if you find turtle eggs or eggshells. After laying the eggs, female turtles will not see or care for their young. Now, they are on their own. Unfortunately, most of the eggs will never hatch. Many of the nests will be dug up by a predator, such as a skunk, raccoon, or fox, within the first night or two. Of the eggs that do hatch, more turtles may be lost to freezing temperatures if they overwinter in the nest. When they make the journey back to water, even more will be lost to dehydration, predators, or cars on their pathway.

predator nest

What remains of a nest after being dug up by a predator.

So what can you do? If you see a Painted Turtle in the middle of the road,  “rushing” as quickly as it can to the other side, help a sister out! The best thing you can do for a turtle is to park in a safe spot on the roadside nearby, turn on your flashers, and alert oncoming traffic to the turtle in the road. Let her cross on her own. If you do move a turtle, make sure to put her on the side of the road in the direction she was heading, otherwise, she may try to cross the road again. Make sure to wash your hands if you handle a turtle. If you see a snapper in the road, it is better to leave her where she is, as they have a pretty fierce bite. Some people attempt to pick them up by their tails to steer clear of those snapping jaws, but please don’t do that! It can damage the turtle’s backbone and your well-intentioned rescue mission can end up causing more harm than good! Again, if there is a safe way to alert oncoming traffic to the turtle, it is best to let her cross on her own! If you find a turtle in or near your yard laying eggs, keep yourselves, children, and pets at least 20 feet away. Enjoy watching her from a distance in order to keep her stress level down! Lastly, the best way for you to help is to educate your family and friends about turtles, their awesomeness, and how to protect them, especially during nesting season!

Happy #WorldTurtleDay

We here at Happy Dancing Turtle have an affinity with the turtle. The majestic turtle is seen in our culture as both patient and wise. From children’s lessons that indoctrinate the values of “slow but steady wins the race” to famous anecdotes of our world consisting of turtles “all the way down“, the grand turtle permeates our modern mythology in many ways.

Take a look at modern turtle poetry. One of my wife’s favorite poems is a classic by Shel Silverstein. It’s called “The Bagpipe Who Didn’t Say No”. It’s a charming poem told in a bouncing rhyming pattern about a turtle who discovers a set of bagpipes on the shore of the sea. If you’ve never read it, take a quick moment to enjoy it.  It’s only just one way we see an aspect of the turtle in our culture.



Shel Silverstein’s “The Bagpipe Who Didn’t Say No” is a classic.

Another way our culture views the grand turtle is through its use in cartoons. You have many iterations that highlight the eggheaded nature of the turtle. Just look at these two examples:


On the left, you see Toby from the classic Robin Hood. He’s good-natured, well-intentioned…nerdy, but a scaredy cat. You could call the turtle on the right a nerd, as well. Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles delivers a punch just like the rest of his brothers, but with the use of his brains.

But, what do these examples say about the turtle? They are continually being represented in our culture, which says to me that they are popular. They’re popular because they have desirable identifiable qualities, such as determination and intelligence. And, above all that, I see another quality in turtles that should be emulated far and wide: resiliency.

Turtles (or more specifically, tortoises) are well-known for their longevity. Only just last decade, the tortoise captured by Charles Darwin himself passed away at the ripe old age of 175 years. Lonesome George, a monument to conservation efforts, passed away at 100 years old. Both these stalwarts lived long, and what is the key to living a long time? You guessed it: Resiliency.


This is Jonathan, an 182-year-old tortoise. You can see him at age 81 in the picture on the left.

Who would you say has a more resiliency, a turtle or a frog? Who would you peg to have the ability to bounce back from hardship, a turtle or a rabbit? Moreover, who would you say has the ability to endure difficulties, ups, and downs, and do it in a manner only described as “stoic”? You bet you’d say a turtle. I know I would.

So, let’s celebrate the turtle. Let’s hold it high among the best animals. Not that the mighty turtle would ask us for it, but let us pay tribute to it. Good job turtles! You’re an inspiration to not only our organization but to the world! Keep it up!

Indoor Gardening Ideas – Update

The indoor gutter system my wife put up last month is going well, but it wasn’t perfect. With a busy schedule (you wouldn’t believe how much time kids take!), watering every day was proving to be difficult and we wanted these plants to survive this time!

We added a reservoir system that automatically watered the plants with a minimal thought on our part. Using vacuum pressure, we only need to “water” our gutter system every other week now. Here’s how it looks!


We added PVC pipe that was sealed off on both ends. A hole was drilled in both sides (on the top of the pipe) for access to the water in the pipe.


Each potted plant hanging out in the gutter was given a hollow water bulb. Each bulb has a hose running to the reservoir just beneath the gutter level.


Here, you can see the bulb and the hose a little more clearly.


You can see our strawberry plant is doing very well with the suction watering system. For our smaller gutter, we used a plastic Tupperware dish to hold the water. It works just the same as the PVC pipe. As long as the water level is just below the soil level, the dry soil will “pull” the water through the hose when it needs it, reducing a lot of watering time.


As long as the tip of the bulb stake is above the water line, you’ll have an almost hands-free watering system. We have to fill the reservoir only on a bi-weekly basis.

The plan is to transfer our cabbage, strawberries, broccoli, and flowers to our outdoor raised beds (I call them our white “coffins” and you can sort of see them in the first picture above). Once they’ve been moved, we’ll start up some herbs for the kitchen that can grow year round. Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh basil?

Get to Know the HDT Board – Erika Bailey-Johnson

At Back to Basics, our annual sustainability event, I get to do a lot of the picture taking and video recording. There’s usually so much going on during the day that I need to plan out where shots should be set up, which interviews need to be recorded, etc. During the lead up to the 2014 B2B, I found that during session 3 (right after the lunch break), there were way too many interesting session to properly cover.

However, as the event date rolled closer, our conundrum was solved on its own. One of the presenters pulled out unexpectedly, leaving us free to mic-up the presenters in the other workshop.

It was at this session where I first met Erika Bailey-Johnson. Stating that she wished to become closer to the Ojibwe culture, Bailey-Johnson introduced herself in fluent Ojibwe. What started as a passion for getting to know her local culture, Bailey-Johnson has been able to turn into a project that can influence young generations to think globally.

We are so fortunate here at HDT to have a leader who eats, breathes, works, and probably even dreams about living the resilient lifestyle.


Erika Bailey-Johnson during a presentation.

As the Sustainability Director at Bemidji State University, Bailey-Johnson’s day job gives her the opportunity to engage her community at different levels. Overseeing sustainability projects at both the University and the city, Bailey-Johnson is able to weave sustainability practices into the everyday lives of both student and citizen.

Some of the projects include removing bottled water from campus stores, enabling student engagement of energy-reduction in their dorms, and even bringing bike sharing programs to the relatively small city of Bemidji.

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Indoor Gardening Ideas

With this recent (of many) snowstorms, I’m here to tell you that life is more than white landscapes inter speckled with black-barked trees and gray skies. I’m here to remind you that green is still a color. Remember green? Remember color? We can have color, even in the cold snowy winter. Even in Central Minnesota! But, instead of growing your entire garden indoors, let’s start a little smaller. Let’s start with windowsill gardens!

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TedXGullLake Streaming Party at CLC!

Tickets for the 2nd TedXGullLake are sold out, but you don’t have to miss out on the action. Taking place this weekend at Madden’s on Gull Lake, the action starts Saturday, April 22 (Earth Day!) at 8am and goes all day.

All 14 speakers and performers who will be live at Madden’s can be seen on screen streaming at the Central Lakes College viewing party. CLC will be hosting the TEDx talks, along with snacks, refreshments, and friendly discussion in Room E203 at the Brainerd campus. 


You can watch the TEDxGullLake live stream at the CLC Campus in Brainerd.

The viewing party will be hosted by Curt Nielsen.

This viewing party is FREE for all.

Katie Hunt, TedXGullLake director, said “The wider these stories and ideas can be spread, the greater the conversation that can take place.”

The streaming party will start at 9am this Saturday, with the first three sessions running from 9-10:25 am, 10:50-noon, and 1:30-3:10pm. Light snacks will be provided.

For more information on the event and speakers, go to

Nature Notes: Citizen Science – Get Involved in Nature!

Spring has sprung and we’re all antsy to get outside and enjoy the nice weather. But what to do?  Find a bird nest? Observe the bees busily visiting flowers in your garden? Listen to the frogs? Watch your favorite pair of loons out on the lake? Did you know that you can do all these things while providing valuable information to scientists around the world?

Dark ice on cooper

The last of the ice left our lake at the end of March.


Citizen Science Programs use ordinary people – like you and me – who volunteer their time to make observations and share their experiences and/or data.  Programs collect this data, which provides way more data than any one scientist or a team of scientists could hope of collecting. This huge data collection can then be used by a variety of scientists, studying a variety of topics, in a variety of locations all over the world!

Let’s back up for a minute.

Phenology is the science of the seasons. It is the study of the biological timing of events in nature as they relate to climate and/or weather. It is something that you probably study quite frequently, and you don’t even realize it! Ever catch yourself thinking “I see open water, I wonder when the ducks will be back” or “Fall is in the air, I bet our maple tree will start to change color soon” or “Brrrr! It’s cold! I bet the pond will freeze over this week.” All of those observations are based in phenology. Continue reading