It’s Clean Beaches Week! BLA’s Best Beaches

July 1-7 is Clean Beach Week, and boy does the Brainerd Lakes Area have some doozys! Let’s be frank: 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

 

Oscarmud

Clean sand welcomes all sand castle builders.

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. 

If you have only time to go to one beach in the area, this is the beach I would recommend for most. It’s got almost everything you’d like. The positives (shady area, tons of picnic tables, care of shoreline, and access to lots of recreational facilities) easily outweigh the negatives (which are the ridiculously small beach and a large horsefly presence).

Whipple Beach Recreation Area

 

whipplewideshot

You’ll love the wide open space for sunning and sandplay, just watch out for burning feet.

Whipple Beach is snuggled just west of Hwy 371 behind Best Buy, about a mile. So, if you’re looking for a beach that is close to the cosmopolitan confines of Brainerd, look no further than the surprisingly sandy shores of Whipple.

The new playground There are many things that will draw you to this location and simply because it’s right in our backyard, it will be visited many times, eagerly. There are so many reasons to enjoy this beach. Bike trails run alongside the sand, playground equipment beckons the kids, a picnic pavilion can generously host groups of all sizes, and changing rooms are available. The only downside I can see to Whipple would be due to its location, it’s always going to be busy on hot days. Moreover, if it’s busy, you’ll be forced onto the Sahara Desert, away from the shady area. But, with clear fresh water only feet away, it shouldn’t be too bad.

Continue reading

Canoeing & Mindfulness

Introduction

Hello there! My name is Tatiana. I began working for Happy Dancing Turtle just three weeks ago. I am the new summer activities assistant in the Driftless Region, so I get to spend time planning and facilitating our Eco Camps with Nora! I am very excited about this new position and am learning new things every day. I am also grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts about one of my favorite experiences in nature: canoeing.

Tatiana & her mom, 2006

Continue reading

A 2019 Minnesota Summer Festival Highlight

Minnesota has a wide heritage that is as eclectic as it is unique. For those of you that have grown up in rural Minnesota, you understand that the summertime is a time to work hard and make hay while the sun shines.

We’ve got to cram all our summer fun in three months, so there is significant overlap on weekends, but there is definitely no shortage of things to do during the warm months.

We love to celebrate our heritage with festivals and get-togethers that range from New Ulm’s Oktoberfest to American Indian powwows.

garlicfestmn

Let’s be honest, garlic’s a pretty weak reason to host a festival, but Hutchinson holds it’s event with gusto, and it’s only getting bigger!

However, there’s really no good list of how many events Minnesota hosts. There’s not a “definitive” list, but some range them between 600 and 1,500 block parties, powwows, concerts, annual town get-togethers, historical reenactments,  and not to mention the the larger events like the State Fair, the Renaissance Festival, and We Fest (the largest camping & country concert in the US).

And it’s not only for the lutefisk and mashed potatoes that people put these things together. There’s big money to be made! According to an article by Andy Greder and Ann Harrington, a significant portion of the $10 billion spent by travelers in Minnesota are dedicated to attending the myriad festivals across the state.

 

You see, Minnesotans love a good get together! There hardly needs to be a reason. However, here are a few of the festivals that might prove to be worth the visit:

Agate Days – Moose Lake – July 13-14
Festival of the Voyageur – Pine City – September 21-22
MN Garlic Festival – Hutchinson – August 10
Potato Days- Barnesville – August 23-24
Bean-Hole Days – Pequot Lakes – July 16-17
King Turkey Days – Worthington – Sept 13-14
Corn Capital Days – Olivia – July 22-28
Dam Festival – Little Falls – June 14-15
Summerfest – Pine River – July 24-28

Turtle Talks Podcast – Episode 21 (Part1): Foraging 101, a Q&A With Travis Grimler

A few weeks ago, we were able to sit down with local news reporter Travis Grimler, who is fanatical for foraging! We chatted with Travis for over 90 minutes and picked up so much good information, we were able to split the recording into two episodes. This is the first part.

IMG_3617

Travis brought a bunch of foraging books and examples to the recording.

In this episode, we talk about proper foraging safety, nutrients vs calories, and even The Walking Dead.

Continue reading

Outdoor Adventures: Tracking Animals in Winter

Siggy walk .jpgA large majority of my free time is spent wandering through the woods and fields with my dog in tow (alright, normally I’m the one in tow as he impatiently waits for me to keep up). Although I am occasionally rewarded with a neat critter sighting, most of the time, my pup does a pretty good job scaring off any wildlife within the vicinity. Instead, I’m left to look for signs that animals have been there: tracks, scat (the very scientific word for poo), feathers, bones, nests or other homes, rubs, scrapes, chewing marks, etc. Of course, this is assuming my dog hasn’t destroyed and/or eaten any of the artifacts before I can find them. During the summer, when our landscapes are bursting with vegetation, birds, insects, and more, these signs can be hard to notice! Unless you’re traversing a mud pit, tracks largely disappear in the carpet of last year’s leaves, grasses, and under story plants. But in winter, if it’s snowy,  it’s like a veil has been lifted and animals are no longer capable of sneaking about undetected. Suddenly our yards, forests, and fields come alive with activity, all documented by footprints left behind. Following animal tracks in the snow is one of my all time favorite winter activities (… okay, I love everything about winter).

Deer and Turkey TracksSo how do you begin to know what kind of tracks you’re looking at? We’re going to break it down for you. Chances are, if the track is in the snow, it belongs to a bird or a mammal. Our reptiles and amphibians are hibernating for winter and our fish obviously don’t leave tracks in the snow. Bird tracks, as a group, are pretty easy to identify and we’re not going to delve into identifying bird tracks by species. I’m not sure that anybody delves into that! So the first thing you need, is a field guide to mammals in you area (see resources at the bottom). Once you identify a few characteristics, the list of potential mammalian suspects narrows pretty quickly. First, there are two major things a beginner tracker needs to observe.

  1. Clear, Individual Print –  Yes, it must be clear! Not all snow is going to provide you with a crisp print. Super dry, light, fluffy snow isn’t the best for tracks. Neither is super deep snow, as the actual track is so far down you can’t see it. If you don’t have a clear print with distinct details, skip ahead to number 2. If you do find a high quality print, there are 4 aspects you want to observe: toes, shape, claws, and size.  

A. Number of toes – groups of mammals can be identified by how many toes are in the print. Some mammals may have different numbers of front and back toes, so be careful!

B. Overall shape – Is the track mostly round? Oval? Does it look human-like, but tiny? Is it heart-shaped? Are the toes very long and skinny? Noticing the overall shape can help identify the correct group of mammals. Many animals have differently shaped front and hind tracks – do you see two different shapes?

C. Claws – are there claw marks present? These can be very difficult to see at times, but they can also be really helpful, especially when identifying between dog and cat groups (cats have retractable claws, so they typically don’t show in their prints).

D. Size – It can be very useful to bring a small measuring tool with you on your walks to determine the front and hind track size.  Make sure if you see two different prints, as in a front and hind track, to measure both if you can. If you don’t have a measuring tool with you, try to get a picture with something in it for scale so you have an idea later how big or small the print was.

Mammal Track Summary Chart

This is a helpful summary chart & quick reference for individual mammal tracks.

2. The Track Pattern – Even if you have deep snow or unclear prints, you can usually still study the track pattern, or the gait of the animal. There are four basic track patterns: walking, galloping, bounding, or waddling.

A. Diagonal Walking – Created when an animal moves its right hand and left foot at the same time, then its left hand and right foot at the same time. Tracks are fairly equally spaced and appear as “double” prints. Diagonal walkers include: cats, dogs, hoofed animals, opossums, and badgers. You’ll also want to note the stride, or the distance between two hind tracks. Strides of diagonal walkers are typically about the shoulder to hip distance of an animal, so this can help you quickly identify the relative size of the animal that left the print.

Diagonal Walker

Direct Register: When the hind track lands directly on top of the front track. Includes cats and fox.

Indirect Register: When the hind track overlaps a little behind the front track. Includes all other diagonal walkers.

B. Galloping –  Created when the larger hind feet land in front of the smaller hind feet. Gallopers include: rabbits/hares, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, & shrews.

gallop walkers

C. Bounding – Created when the front feed land together at the same time, and then the back feet land where the front feet were. Bounders include: weasels, otter, mink, marten, & fishers.

Bounder

D. Waddling (aka Pace Walking) – Created when the weight of an animal shifts from side to side – both the right hand and foot move forward, then both the left hand and foot move forward. Waddlers tend to be heavy-set mammals, including: bears, porcupine, muskrat, raccoons, beavers, & skunks.

Gait patterns

Keep in mind, these are general rules for walking animals and there are always exceptions to rules! In addition, the speed of the animal and the terrain can affect the track pattern created. These general rules should be used for walking animals on relatively flat ground. Once you’ve mastered this, you can dig deeper into tracks made at various speeds and so on.

Here are some of the tracks I’ve come across in my wanderings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So head out there and enjoy! Take a small ruler or measuring device, a notebook, and a small camera on your wanderings. Then you can always ID them later, hopefully by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate!

Resources That May Help! 

Books:

Mammals of Minnesota Field Guide – Stan Tekiela

Mammals of the North Woods (Naturalist Series) – Roger Powell

The Tracker’s Field Guide: A Comprehensive Manual for Animal Tracking – James Lowery ** Would highly recommend if you’re ready to move beyond the basics!

Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Signs – Paul Rezendes

 

Websites:

Outdoor Action – Princeton University

The Wilderness Arena

And, surprisingly, The United States Search and Rescue Task Force 

If you’re having trouble with an ID, have a good picture, and are in Minnesota – try posting it on this KAXE Season Watch Facebook group – there are a lot of eager & knowledgeable people who will help you out!

Cold Weather Comfort Foods

As a lifelong resident of the Midwest, I’ve come to the realization that there is no escaping winter. It will have it’s way with you. Some people have chosen to embrace it, like our beloved Nora, who can be seen, even on the most cold and daylight deprived days, out frolicking in the ice and snow.

Other, more rational, people have made the choice to fight against the oppressive, bitter winds and the unrelenting below-zero temperatures by turning to the kitchen. There, they’ve fortified themselves through the magical art called “Comfort Food.”

I’ve asked the staff here at HDT if they have a food or recipe they use that combats the onslaught of red noses and frosty feet, and I got a bunch of goods ones. If you have any you’d like to share, please comment below!

Gluhwein

gluhweinAllison R. talks about her favorite comfort food and reminisces a bit about when she first experienced it. She says she first tried Gluhwein (“Glow Wine”) while walking a Christmas market in Germany while visiting her husband, while he was on leave. She loves the hot, citrusy, and spicy flavor. She claims it makes you warm from the inside-out.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 medium orange
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup turbinado or granulated sugar
  • 20 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry red wine
  • Rum or amaretto, for serving (optional)
Directions:
  1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the orange in wide strips, taking care to avoid the white pith; set aside. Juice the orange and set the juice aside.
  2. Combine the water and sugar in a large, nonreactive saucepan and boil until the sugar has completely dissolved. Reduce the heat and add cloves, cinnamon, star anise, orange zest, and orange juice. Simmer until a fragrant syrup forms. Takes about 1 minute.
  3. Reduce the heat further and add the wine. Let it barely simmer for at least 20 minutes but up to a few hours. Keep an eye out so it doesn’t reach a full simmer.
  4. Strain and serve in small mugs, adding a shot of rum or amaretto and garnishing with the orange peel and star anise if desired.

Shepherds Pie

shepherdspieIn my book, for a recipe to be considered “comfort food” it has to fulfill two requirements: 1) Is it warm? 2) Is it filling?

This shepherds pie hits both of these criteria in stride. After you’ve had a long day of either slogging through the ice fields on Greenland or the green fields of Iceland, you’re going to be happy to dig into this bad boy.

Ingredients:
  • 2 lbs freshly ground burger
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 carrots coarsley chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1-2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 10 oz frozen peas
  • 2-1/2 lbs russet potatoes peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter
Directions:
  1. Preheat over to 425F. Heat a large skillet over high heat. In two batches, cook burger until no longer pink, about five minutes each. Transfer burger to a colander set in a bowl; let fat drain off and discard.
  2. Add 1/4 cup water to the skillet, scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium; add onion and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 5 minutes). Stir in tomato paste. Add flour, cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  3. Add Worchestershire sauce, 2 cups water, and burger. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in peas; cook 1 minute. Divide among eight 8-oz ramekins; or two 9-inch glass pie dishes.
  4. Potato Topping: In a medium saucepan, cover potatoes with salted water by 1 inch; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer until fork tender (about 15-20 minutes). Drain.
  5. In pan, bring milk and butter to a simmer, remove from heat. Return potatoes; mash. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Spread potato topping over pies; use a fork to make peaks. Bake on a baking sheet until tops are browned, 25-30 minutes. Cool slightly, serve.

 

Cornish Pastie

I asked around the staff and our resident chef, Chris G. came up with this neat little recipe. He said it reminded him of gatherings, church basements, and the way that a good meal can bring people together, which he claims is the true meaning of comfort food.

Ingredients:
  • pasty1-1/2 lbs pie crust
  • 1 lb chuck steak cubed
  • 6 oz potato cubed
  • 6 oz rutabaga cubed
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp savory
  • 1/2 tsp sage
  • pinch salt & pepper
  • 1 egg (beaten)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Divide dough into 6, roll out into round shapes
  2. Mix steak, veggies, herbs & season. Then spoon equal amounts onto crusts
  3. Brush edges with water then pinch together firmly, (it must seal!)
  4. Transfer pasties to a lined baking sheet. Brush each pasty with egg, then place in oven.
  5. Cook for 15 minutes at 425F, then reduce heat to 325F and then cook for an hour.

Turtle Talks Podcast – Episode 19: Reconnecting Indigenous Cultures, a Q&A With Sean Sherman

Jim, Allison, and Chris went to the MDA Organic Conference last month and Sean Sherman was the keynote speaker. Jim took a shot and asked if Sean would be interested in speaking on Turtle Talks and to our surprise, he said yes!
So, we’re very excited to have Sean Sherman on this episode. More famously known through his food production company, The Sioux Chef, Sherman talks about his mission to bring indigenous foods back to indigenous communities, helping to grow opportunities and create successful micro food systems.

You can learn more about Sherman’s non-profit organization, NATIFS (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems) by going to https://www.natifs.org/. You will learn about his mission to help native communities reconnect with traditions and native cuisine that has been lost over the centuries due to the colonization and aggressive expansion of European settlers.

Continue reading

Outdoor Adventures on Snowshoes & Skis

As a Minnesotan, I find you get the most out living in this state if you come to embrace all four of our very distinct and wonderful seasons. Most people have the hardest time embracing winter – the cold temps, the snow, the often difficult travels, and the extended periods inside with your children on polar vortex and snow days take a toll on a person! Personally, I love winter. I probably spend more time outside in winter than I do in any other season. The secret is to find outdoor activities that let you marvel in nature, while also keeping you warm!

Both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing have a wealth of health benefits, plus these types of “workouts” will keep you warm in even the most frigid of temps! These outdoor recreation options are good cardio exercise, allowing you to build strength, endurance, and balance while providing a full-body workout! Not to mention, the time outdoors in nature helps reduce stress and anxiety, and who doesn’t need that!? Whether your flying solo or with friends and family, this time in nature can be rejuvenating. Plus, did I mention they’re fun? Both snowshoes and cross-country skis come in a variety of sizes, meaning this can be fun for the whole family!

 

 

Continue reading

Turtle Talks Podcast – Episode 18: Kids in Nature

We were able to tear Michelle H. and Nora W. from their Back to Basics setup (taking place THIS SATURDAY, February 2) to talk with us about the important topic of kids and nature. You won’t be surprised to learn that more and more children are spending less and less time outdoors and are choosing to instead spend their time in front of screens (of any kind).

dragonflykid

Shared from Allison R.

This was an eye-opening episode for me.

It made me re-evaluate the amount of time I allow my children to be occupied by electronics, and furthermore, how I, myself interact with my screens.

The point isn’t that technology is bad or worse than not using technology. What has become evident is that children are missing out on some of the things that inherently make them kids. They have optimism, energy, and want to explore things. It’s built into their core.

What is happening is that the extreme uptick in screen time use is stopping children from being able to use that core.

We need to be mindful as parents that the use of technology and the, possibly, unintended consequences of allowing too much screen time, do not interfere with letting a kid be what a kid is supposed to be.

Continue reading

Introduction to Camping: Wilderness Camping

“In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” -Excerpt from The Wilderness Act of 1964

Wilderness camping is what camping is meant to be all about. You’re powered by the work of your own body; your luxuries are limited to what you’re able to carry yourself; you’re away from the hustle and bustle of society and large crowds; you rely on your own resourcefulness to get past bumps in your journey. This type of camping takes a bit more prep work – planning a route, planning your meals, packing the right equipment, and making sure you have a plan in case something goes wrong. Often, wilderness camping takes you out of cell service range, which can be a curse and a blessing all at one time. That inability to connect with the world at the touch of a button can give you a true “unplugged” vacation, allowing you to reach a whole new level of relaxation. At the same time, you need to be aware that if something did go wrong, you may not easily be able to get help. So planning for this type of trip is key to your success. That being said, this is in no way a comprehensive guide. If you’re new to wilderness camping, do some serious research about any trip you plan on taking. Think of this as a jumping off point.

DSCN4706.JPG Continue reading