Not that I mind being confused with my esteemed blogger colleague, Rocco, but apparently on last week's post, a couple of you thought I was Mike. That's ok, but I'm not Mike, and I doubt he wants to be confused with me. This confusion made me realize that I had not properly introduced myself, and this week's entry is probably the most appropriate one, as you'll see why in a moment!
My name is Nathan, and I am a board member of MDRA, and an occasional coach and team lead of the marathon training programs that MDRA offers. I moved here several years ago and within a week had bought a house in South Minneapolis, picking the location purely on my experiences during the Twin Cities Marathon in 2003. I knew I wanted to be as close to Minnehaha Falls as possible, so that's where I lived. I loved that spot with the access to Minnehaha Parkway, the River Roads and Lake Nokomis. What I didn't know was that my favorite running spot by my house would be an entirely different trail.
I had no idea Fort Snelling was so accessible to Minnehaha Falls and only discovered it by accident by running the wrong way down the long hill from the falls to the base of the fort. Once I had a taste of the trails down there, I was running down there a couple times a week, particularly on Pike Island.
I recently moved closer to Uptown, so I don't get back to Fort Snelling as often, and I really do miss it. In fact, I miss that more than anything else about my old neighborhood, with the exception of the 5am runs with Rocco. I know he doesn't miss those.
That's enough about me, on with the trail report!
Fort Snelling has an interesting, amazing, and mostly sad history. It's not important to know the history to run here, but it's important as a Minnesotan to know what took place here. The Minnesota Historical Society runs a nice museum on top of the bluff, and there are other resources you can find on the Internet as well to learn more. Here are just a few interesting facts about Fort Snelling:
- Purchased by Zebulon Pike in 1805
- Fort construction begins in 1820
- Dred Scott lived here as a slave, and since Minnesota was a Free State, he used his time at Fort Snelling as justification in his unsuccessful attempt to win freedom through the courts
- The largest mass hanging in US history was carried out here in 1862. Lincoln ordered that Native Americans suspected of being involved with the Sioux Uprising be executed. This is without a doubt the darkest day in Minnesota history
Most people experience the historical settlement part of Fort Snelling
In terms of running (which is why you're reading this), Fort Snelling offers about 10 miles of running trails, almost all of which are soft trails. The state park website has an excellent map that details all the trails here. This blog post will focus on the trails on the west side of the river, however, on the east side of the Minnesota River there are more soft trails, often called Sibley Trails due to their proximity to the historic Sibley House.
The 3 main features of Fort Snelling (for running) are Pike Island, Picnic Island, and Snelling Lake.
This is a gem and my favorite 3 miles of running in the Twin Cities. Many find it boring because it is so flat, but I like the familiarity of it. The island is precisely a 5K (3.1 miles) in circumference, with cutoffs to allow 1 and 2 mile loops as well. The trails are dirt and gravel, and very flat. The density of deer living on this island is rather extreme, but if you enjoy seeing wildlife while you run (like I do), Pike Island will not disappoint. Deer, cranes and beavers are everywhere on and around this island. You really feel far from civilization, which is ironic considering this was the site of the first permanent white settlement in Minnesota.
The bridge to access Pike Island
It's not really an island since it is connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, but it probably used to be. There are picnic facilities and a boat ramp. This "island" is about 1.5 miles around or so. Not really worth it for it's own sake, but it's a nice way to make a trail run a little longer.
After Picnic Island you can continue running around Snelling Lake on the soft trails, pausing for a drink of water at the park ranger station. After completing the circuit around the lake, you're back at Pike Island!
There are 3 ways to enter the park:
1) There's a 2-mile, paved trail that goes south from Minnehaha Falls down to Pike Island. Try to run easy down the trail, and hard back up! It's a nice shallow grade, so just perfect for that long hill workout.
2) Park in the lot up on top of the bluff for the Fort Snelling museum. It's free, and just a short, steep jog/walk down the bluff and onto the trails.
3) If you have a state parks sticker, you can park down below in the state park and run from there.
Fort Snelling is perfect for other add-ons. With its close proximity to 2 bridges (Highway 5 into St. Paul and Mendota into Dakota County), you have easy access to the River Roads, Minnehaha Parkway, Sibley Trails, and Big River Trail. It's a great spot to plan all or part of that 20-miler. Or it's a great spot to just run a 5K!
As I mentioned, Pike Island is exactly a 5K around, so it shouldn't surprise you to hear that races are run there! The Fort Snelling 5x5 Relay race every September is a favorite of mine. All you need are 4 friends who will run 5K! The race gets to be a little lonely in the latter legs of the relay, but it's still a ton of fun. This year's running will be September 19.
Enjoy the Trails!