Chatfield has many options for winter fun

By: 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Winter…what to do?

For Chatfield residents, there are a couple nice options — hiking or skating.

Chatfield’s Lost Creek Hiking Trail, west of town just off County Road 2, is available for winter exercise throughout the long days after Christmas until the sun melts away the earth’s white cloak in the spring, noted Chatfield resident and Bluff Country Hiking Club member Jennifer Bradt. The trail opens in the late fall as soon as firearms season is over.

“It’s absolutely open for photography, nature appreciation and educational purposes, but most of all, the opportunity to be outside in the fresh air during the long winter is good for mental and physical health, too,” she said.  “You can see so much farther from the bluffs during the winter.  There are views that can be seen without leaves on the trees that you don’t even realize are there during the summer.  Sometimes the snow makes everything seem more quiet.  It can be quite a relaxing hike.”

The most scenic part of the trail is out by the Ninebark trailhead, she added.  A challenging, but beautiful, 3.5-mile hike stretches from Ninebark to 207th Street, giving hikers an effort that will take about two hours, maybe longer, depending on stops for pictures or a snack. 

“I enjoy the Bailey Cattle Pasture Path the most,” Bradt said.  “There is a stream on one side and a rock face on the other.  It is beautiful at every time of year.”    

The Lost Creek Hiking Trail is not groomed, but hikers who have come before often leave footprints in the snow to guide followers unless there has been significant snow.  Hikers should keep an eye out for signs and arrows on the trees if they are unsure of the way to go. 

“The trail is not easy to hike in the winter.  Before we had more snow, I was out with just boots, and it was quite slick.  Next time, I will make sure to remember to wear the spike grips that attach to my boots,” Bradt said.  “Some parts of the trail are uneven, and the trees helped me to keep from slipping.” 

The part of the trail that extends from the Opat Bridge to Magnum Road is a bit more level but Bradt warned it will be muddy when the snow starts to melt.  At water crossings, bridges and rocks are placed to allow crossing streams without getting feet wet.  However, some parts of the trail have washed out areas created by running water during the heavy rains last year and the ground isn’t level across these areas.  Efforts will continue to repair these spots during the spring. 

What potential hikers should wear when venturing into the woods outside of town is always a challenge. 

“It can be a bit warmer in the woods, protected from the wind.  Even if you are hiking slowly, it is still a challenging effort, so make sure to wear layers,” Bradt said.  “For those who enjoy outdoor exercising, the weather is always more mild in the woods, and hiking the trail is a great option for a windy day, especially if you plan on getting a ride back and can walk with the wind at your back most of the way.”

The Bluff Country Hiking Club hosted its annual candlelight hike this past weekend during Chatfield’s Chill Fest and will likely do the same next January or February when the calendar shows it’s time to celebrate winter. 

“It is the only planned event we have, but hiking or snowshoeing the trail at any time is encouraged,” she said.  “The snowshoe walk does not require snowshoes.  Snowshoes do make it easier if the snow is deep or if it is icy.  We place LED candles along the way.  The candlelight snowshoe walk is about 0.8 miles.  Participants are dropped off on Magnum Road and picked up when they reach the bridge along County 2.” 

For more information on the Lost Creek Hiking Trail or the club, log onto the club’s website at www.bluffcountryhikingclub.org

Another option in town

And down the road, just on the edge of town, it’s time to lace up skates and glide on the ice, as city maintenance supervisor Brian Burkholder and the city crew have worked to layer ice on the Mill Creek Park ice skating and hockey rinks.  His crew briefly started in early December, until the warmer temperatures came back.  The workers resumed in early January when the temperatures dropped to below zero. They started adding layers on Jan. 10 and over the following weekend. 

“It’s been a different year than years past due to the warm temps,” Burkholder said.  “It took a while for the ground to freeze and cold enough temps to make decent ice.  We still continue to add a layer daily if the weather permits.”

Burkholder pointed out that the smaller rink to the east of the hockey rink is generally for ice skating, but that there are sometimes enough hockey players that it gets used for a game of pucks if the large rink is not ready.  This rink freezes quicker, as it is outside the walls and gets more cold air or breeze. 

“For the most part, the skating rink is the easiest to get started and maintain, being that it is outside and exposed to cold temps and wind chill,” he said.  “Early on, people use it for hockey until the large one is ready.” 

Both rinks can be used night or day, as they’re lit by streetlights on a switch.  Burkholder enjoys seeing people at the skating and hockey rinks because “it’s knowing that kids and/or adults have another place to enjoy the winter outdoors and not to travel to other communities to do so. By the sounds of it, they do get used quite a bit.  I haven’t been down there much in the evenings to witness.” 

Burkholder reminded hockey players of the rules for the rink: “Common sense, for sure.  If the ice is soft, to stay off the rinks.  It’s helpful if they obey the ‘stay off’ sign when posted when the ice is slushy or there are extremely warm temps.  If skated on when slushy, it makes big ruts, and it is tough to make it flat again, and please, no driving vehicles on rinks for that same reason.  Don’t shove snow to the edges of the boards, as it turns hard and we need to shovel them off again by hand.  Pick up bottles and garbage after done — we find a lot of bottles lying around.  Remove the nets off the ice when done because they melt into the ice when temps warm up.   If someone wants to use the rinks, they should turn the lights off when the last person leaves – they get left on often – and turn the heater off in the warming house when done, and clean up trash.” 

Burkholder concluded that he is happy to help keep skaters and hockey players on a frozen sheet all winter. 

“I’m hoping that temperatures stay cold enough…once it gets rough from slush it is more difficult to get back to smooth again,” he said.  “It is posted on the city’s website whether the rinks are open or closed, and I’m glad to see and hear that people are having fun, giving people something to do in the winter months.”   

For more information, log onto the Chatfield city website at www.ci.chatfield.mn.us