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COLUMN: Let’s make the most of Bemidji’s winters

As the long, cold winter months set in, it can be tempting to stay inside and curl up on the couch with a warm blanket and a good movie. However, inhaling the brisk, fresh air and immersing in the outdoors is so beneficial for one’s mental health and overall well-being.

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Bemidji is host to many options of ways to get out and enjoy the outdoors during the winter months, including the new paved walking trail along 23rd Street Northwest in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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As the long, cold winter months set in, it can be tempting to stay inside and curl up on the couch with a warm blanket and a good movie. However, inhaling the brisk, fresh air and immersing in the outdoors is so beneficial for one’s mental health and overall well-being.

Instead of hibernating in the warmth of the indoors all winter, I’m taking the initiative to spend more time outside, even when it’s cold. Winter brings so many sights and activities that can’t be experienced any other time of the year.

I’m writing this in hopes to inspire others to live in the moment and make the most of the chilly winter months by heading outside to experience all nature has to offer and exploring the health benefits that go with it.

I’m somewhat new to the Bemidji area and definitely not an expert when it comes to the variety of winter activities the area offers, but the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department's programming and special events assistant Amber Mott is.

She said some of her favorite outdoor trails and activities include the Montebello Trail and the newly expanded 14-hole winter disc golf course on the east side of City Park near the softball fields. This is a great opportunity for a little exercise and to try something new this winter.

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Bemidji City Park, located at 1224 23rd Street, also features a newly expanded 14-hole winter disc golf course. The course is located on the east side of the park near softball field No. 1.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“The cross-country skiing trails at Montebello are nice and get you outside. You can rent cross-country skis from (Bemidji State University) and bring them to the park,” Mott explained. “Otherwise, there's a disc golf course at City Park which is totally free. You have to bring your own frisbees, but it's a really fun course.”

According to Mott’s expertise, North Country Park is also a good place to walk, snowshoe or ski. I went there on Thursday, Dec. 1, and the trails are beautiful and very clearly marked, so you won’t have to worry about getting lost. Who knows, you might even see some wildlife enjoying the outdoors, too.

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A buck is spotted through the trees from a trail at North Country Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Another more obvious trail to try is the Paul Bunyan Trail which loops around Lake Bemidji. It might be more brisk than the ones deeper in the woods, but you may see an eagle or two and lots of ducks and swans hanging out on the ice.

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Ducks and swans swim in a spot of open water on Thursday, Dec 1, 2022, near the Paul Bunyan walking trail that loops around Lake Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“We’re really hopeful that we will get some more snow in the next couple of weeks so we can start grooming and holding some snowshoe programs (at North Country Park),” said Mott. “We typically do four or five snowshoeing programs — family snowshoeing or moonlight snowshoeing there.”

Mott said the Parks and Recreation Department rents out snowshoes at the Tourist Information Center to anyone who wants to try, but again, until more snow falls, rentals aren’t quite in season yet.

“There’s also a story walk that goes along with the snowshoe trail at North Country Park that people can go and follow along with the story as they hike,” she added.

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Get some fresh air and follow along with a story walkthrough at North Country Park, located at, 1001 30th St. SW, provided by the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

For more information about the trails or winter programs and activities with Bemidji Parks and Recreation, visit their website at ci.bemidji.mn.us/parksandrec.

Shake off the winter blues

I also spoke to Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Amanda Gartner about the benefits staying active outside in the winter can have on mental health and overall well-being. Gartner is a counselor at Bemidji State University and is no stranger to the frigid temps that the winter months bring to the Bemidji area.

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She said the “Winter Blues'' or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is one of the main issues people who live in Minnesota face, and most of us can probably remember times when we felt like this. SAD occurs in climates where there is less sunlight at certain times of the year and some of the symptoms include fatigue and social withdrawal.

“(During the winter) we're getting so much less sunshine. That is actually a big chunk of (the problem),” Gartner said. “All of this is linked to that magical vitamin D. I’m not (medically trained), but what I can say is exercise in the winter is perfect for (people with SAD) especially getting whatever sunshine you can because it’s so important.”

A lack of sunlight and inconsistent weather affects our brains in many ways. A lot of times we get SAD because the lack of sunlight impacts the regulation of serotonin (which is what makes us feel happy), leads to the overproduction of melatonin (which makes us feel sleepy), causes vitamin D deficiencies and affects our sleep schedules.

The winter months can make it difficult to get outside, but there are so many activities that can make it fun and worthwhile.

“We live in Minnesota's playground,” Gartner said.

Pack a nutritious lunch and head up to the slopes at Buena Vista Ski Area, go on a walk around your neighborhood, grab your family and friends and explore the parks and trails around you, try out the cross-country ski trails or the new winter frisbee golf course.

“In terms of getting outside, we have many options here. We have all those ski trails and fishing, too, is a very mindful activity,” Gartner said. “At my office, we try to walk during lunch and we do it together because it’s so easy to say no and not go outside. But after that brisk little walk outside you get a little bit of sunshine and it’s nice to get a break and get the blood flowing. That crisp weather sure wakes you up and the clean, winter air gives you a little push in the middle of the day when you just start to feel more sluggish.”

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Check out the groomed snowshoe and hiking paths at North Country Park, located 1001 30th St. NW.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

If we all just take a moment to look around, we will notice the endless ways to get moving and out into the sunshine, even during these shorter days.

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Gartner added that she likes to cross-country ski and walk her dog in her free time. She also suggests Movil Maze, just north of town for the ski bunnies. Or, if you prefer walking or snowshoeing, she also recommends Three Island County Park.

"Three Island has a few ski trails, but they made it multipurpose so you can ski, snowshoe or even bring your dog,” Gartner said. “It’s really cool to be able to share the love of the outdoors with your animal on a groomed trail. There's beauty in winter that we usually ignore because we're in the office or at home. There are so many cool things to see when there's snow on the trees or the ice on the river.”

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A doe is spotted through the trees from a trail at North Country Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Bemidji.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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