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A cross-country ski trail in UMore Park.

A portion of the 11-mile Lone Rock Trail in UMore Park.

Kick wax time

UMore Park offers cross-country ski trail

By Pauline Oo

January 6, 2006

When asked what makes a trail good, University of Minnesota recreational trail design expert Mel Baughman answers: it has to be safe and interesting. And the Lone Rock Trail at UMore Park, the U's research facility in Rosemount, is both.

"The 11-mile trail can handle horseback riding and hiking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter, which under some circumstances might be incompatible," says Baughman. "But we put together a set of design and construction standards that would satisfy the most demanding users [as well as] make sure it was a safe trail with an interesting layout and appropriate signage so that people could find their way around."

Baughman, who clocked in many hiking and snowshoeing hours over the course of six months while planning the trail in 2003, describes the Lone Rock Trail as "a loop trail, with several interconnected loops that allow you to take different length trips." The Pine Loop, which is approximately a mile, is the shortest; the Lone Rock Loop, at about 4.5 miles, miles is the longest.

Lone Rock: the name
The Lone Rock.The Lone Rock Trail is named after a large sandstone formation that juts out from the top of a hill in the heart of UMore Park. The local landmark is surrounded by woodland and "has been there for centuries," says U professor Mel Baughman. "It was a gathering place for some of the early pioneers in the area." The rock is not accessible to the public because it is surrounded by dry oak woodland, which Dakota County has declared a scarce natural resource.

The trail's design, use, and maintenance are used as examples of good trail management in University classes. Baughman, himself, has taught two spring freshmen courses on recreational trail design.

There are more than 1,600 miles of designated cross-country ski trails throughout Minnesota, and state law requires skiers 16 years and above to have a daily, annual, or three-year pass to use any public or state-operated ski trails. Lone Rock Trail users can buy the $5 daily pass or $25 annual pass (April 1 through March 30) at the trailhead.

"We have seen a lot of activity and use. We're selling many daily passes," says Elizabeth Soucy, UMore Park executive administrative specialist. "The snowfall this year has been a real boon for the trail."

The Dakota County Parks and Recreation Department takes care of the 12-foot wide Lone Rock Trail, which, depending on the amount of snowfall, is groomed for both classical and skate skiing styles. (An intermediate cross-country ski level is required because of the varied landscapes with frequent short hill climbs and descents.)

"The trail travels around the edges of farmlands and through abandoned fields and wood lots," says Baughman. "But there's a tremendous diversity of wildlife out there. Almost every time I go, I see wild turkeys, deer, coyotes, foxes, and pheasants, and people are likely to see them too if they're quiet as they travel around. The more noise you make, the less you're going to see." In the summer, visitors may also chance upon a Blanding's Turtle or a Loggerhead Shrike--two threatened Minnesota species.

Lone Rock Trail opened in the spring of 2004 for horseback riding and hiking. It's located in the southern portion of 7,500-acre UMore Park-- the largest publicly owned research and educational facility in the United States where urban and rural meet--and is also used by the University to conduct research on trail design and trail users, to teach students how to plan trails, and to inform the public, as well as private forest land owners and natural resource professionals, about a wide variety of topics associated with trail use.

Arboretum trail

The U also has 8 miles of cross-country ski trails and 1.2 miles of snowshoe trails, which can accommodate a range of skill levels, at its Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. The eight trails, opened daily from 8 a.m. to sunset (snow permitting), meander along 1,000 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and prairie. Trail maps available at the Visitor Center and trailheads. Trail use is free with general Arboretum admission ($7 for adults, free for children 15 and under.) For driving directions, see Landscape Arboretum. For more trail information, call the arboretum at 952-443-1400.

"Because [Lone Rock Trail] is a new trail, we may be contacting some of the people who use it for feedback so we can learn about their reaction to it, what they like, and what they didn't like," says Baughman. "Their input can help us do a better job of not only improving this trail but designing better trails in Minnesota."

A girl looking into the woods.
Spotting wild life is common practice on UMore Park's ski trails.

The Lone Rock Trail is open daily from 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset. Off-road vehicles (4WD, ATV, motorcycle), snowmobiles, bicycles, pets, camping, campfires, hunting, trapping, shooting guns, and alcoholic beverages are prohibited.

To download a map of the trail and directions to get there, see Lone Rock Trail. For current information on trail conditions, call the Dakota County 24-hour hotline at 651-438-4636.