A bit of heaven, just down the road from Pelican
Kim Pederson, Erhard, Guest contributor
I was five years old when Maplewood Park became an official state park in 1963. My home was just a few miles from the park, so this seemed like a big deal to my family. Sort of like having royalty move in next door.
Throughout the years I skied on Holloway Hill and walked the park’s many trails. Our family rarely missed the fall colors as we rode on an open wagon, beaming from our webbed green and white, folding lawn chairs. As thrilling as that was, it doesn’t come close to the feeling I had this weekend.
Every fall my husband and I load our horses and dogs and head to Maplewood horse camp. We hope for a weekend when the leaves are at peak. This weekend the colors were stunning. Every available camp site was booked. The pickup trucks and horse trailers parked at day camp looked like they might never get untangled and back on the road.
We rode our horses by the Josh Hanson Memorial Picnic Shelter and the parking lot was overflowing with cars, forcing hopeful walkers to park along the roadside. We met dozens of hikers, more horseback riders than we could count, and hundreds of cars packed with dogs and smiling kids waving out the window. In our 50 plus years of coming to Maplewood, we had never seen it that busy.
It was early afternoon on Saturday when we rode to the crest of a hill close to the park entrance. We could not believe our eyes. Cars were backed up almost to the park entrance. It looked like hundreds of cars all creeping along patiently while marveling at nature’s big show. Sort of like in the movie “Field of Dreams” where people were reminded of all that once was good and could be again. People, families, willing to wait in line to do what families years ago understood all too well. Before Covid. Before 24-hour news and smart phones. Before politicians’ nonstop railing on about why we should all hate and distrust each other.
When we arrived back at horse camp, families were playing softball. Campfires were blazing and the smell of hotdogs and s’mores filled the air. Later that night I heard the chant of Moonlight Starlight in the distance.
Maybe it won’t last, but that feeling of goodness and oneness will not soon be forgotten. Not by me, and I am hoping not by the hundreds or thousands of people who visited the Park this weekend.
Is this heaven? No, it is not. It is Maplewood State Park.
Seeking the healing fresh air of nature
If the COVID-19 pandemic accomplished nothing else, it may have inspired folks to discover, or rediscover, Mother Nature and her glories.
Especially refreshing are the autumn colors, described as “a healing balm” for troubled times by Don Del Greco, Maplewood State Park manager.
Minnesota’s state park system, including of course, Maplewood, may be on a record-setting path in terms of total visitation.
“We’re celebrating very high use throughout our park system through the pandemic—and those patterns are certainly holding up here at Maplewood,” said Del Greco. “There are so many new people coming to the state parks.”
Normally, Del Greco would unveil some preliminary park attendance numbers at the annual Friends of Maplewood meeting, which is usually hosted about the third week of September.
The pandemic forced cancellation of the annual Maplewood meeting, as well as the popular “Leaf Days” celebration. But fall color visits to Maplewood were on pace with previous years, even last weekend (Sept. 26-27), when the weather was overcast, and rain was intermittent.
“Extremely high use” was the comment from Del Greco on COVID-year attendance—though firm numbers from Maplewood are still pending.
Over the past decade, Maplewood has grown to 140,000 to 150,000 visiters annually.
— Louis Hoglund managing editor