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Just a Day in the Park Week 9: The Big Lake Beckons

Just a Day in the Park
Just a Day in the Park with Traveler Luke Gorski

At long last, Luke Gorski has arrived at the stage in his journey that he has been looking forward to since the very beginning of his 10 week, 66 park journey: the Minnesota state parks along the north shore of Lake Superior. Read on to find out more about what makes this part of the state so special for Luke. Or to hear the whole conversation with Luke, Heidi, and Staff Phenologist John Latimer, click the "Listen" player above.

This week, Luke completed the border lakes area by visiting Bear Head Lake and then swung down to the tip of Lake Superior and hiked near the St. Louis River in Jay Cooke.

Just west of Ely is Bear Head Lake State Park. "Bear Head Lake is awesome," Luke said. "You're getting into more rocky territory as you head east, and there's lots of boulders in the park. When I was there, there were lots of people but minimal mosquitoes."

He then moved southeast to find Jay Cooke, a park that made a great impression on Luke. "Jay Cooke is one of the best parks I've ever been to," he said. The park ranked highly for Luke, even though some of the hiking trails weren't fully operational. "They haven't gotten around to mowing a whole lot since they got flooded. The trails have been wet for so long so they can't mow. I was chest deep in ferns at one point."

When Luke mentioned this tidbit, you could hear Heidi smile. "Luke, if you ever start a band, it should be called Chest Deep in Ferns," she said.

But the overgrowth didn't detract from Luke's enjoyment. "If you want interesting hiking, you want to stay along the river for the most part," Luke said. "The Carlton trail is the less trafficked of the ones along the river; that's the one I would recommend."

"When I got back there, I was thinking, 'I bet John Latimer would like this area.'"

The countdown is on as Luke approaches the end of his journey to visit each and every Minnesota state park this summer. After completing this task in both South Dakota and Iowa in previous summers, Luke has learned some strategy for making sure he has the will and energy to complete the task. Luke's strategy: Save the best for last.

For the Minnesota state parks, this meant Luke waited until the end of the journey before venturing up the north shore of Lake Superior. "I'm glad to be on the north shore, finally," Luke said in this week's conversation with John and Heidi. Besides the natural beauty of the area that you can read about below, Luke and his family are regular visitors to the north shore, which adds to the importance of this leg of the journey. "My family got a place in Tofte for this week. We come up to the north shore every other year or so, and this is this year's adventure for all of us."

The reasons for visiting the north shore are different for each person traveling on Hwy. 61 during the summer months. What is the same however, is the awe and inspiration one feels when they first lay eyes on the big lake. And that feeling only grows each and every time you get the chance to be in the company of the largest lake in the world.

As for the parks, Luke visited three of the most-populated state parks in the universe: Gooseberry, Split Rock, and Tettegouche. One of the common themes for Luke at these parks was the people. "On a whim I decided to leave for Gooseberry at 5:30am instead of my normal time. And thank goodness I did because I would have been out of a parking spot. When I got back to the lot after my hike, it was full."

There was a respite from the crowds, and Luke found it by hiking the Fifth Falls Trail, which he had all to himself. The further from the parking lot, the fewer the people, it turns out.

Luke enjoyed the hiking near Split Rock even more than Gooseberry. "They have more trails that go along the lake and a lot of views of the light house," he said. "Of the trails that go up away from the lake, there's only one and it gives a great view of the lake. I recommend it to anyone wanting to do a long hike because all of the trails are in pretty good shape. That trail is about 10 miles and I loved it!"

For lovers of overlooks and vistas, like Luke, Tettegouche is the crown jewel. Luke hiked 15 miles in Tettegouche with his dad, and had a full day of taking in inspiring vistas. "It was a amazing. There were more than 15 overlooks on our 15 mile hike. The Palisade Overlook is the best one."

Left for Luke on his summer-long adventure are the north shore parks further afield. Tune in next week for Luke's final report on Crosby-Manitou, Temperance River, Cascade River, Judge CR Magney, and Grand Portage.

"I'm excited for the finale broadcast next week," Luke said.

We are too, Luke!

Bear Head Lake SP
Bear Head Lake’s shore at Bear Head Lake State Park
Jay Cooke SP
Cascades on the St. Louis River at Jay Cooke State Park
Gooseberry Falls SP
A high overlook at Gooseberry Falls State Park
Split Rock Lighthouse SP
A view of the lighthouse at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
Tettegouche SP
The Palisade Valley overlook at Tettegouche State Park

Heidi Holtan has worked at KAXE/KBXE for over 22 years. She currently helms the Morning Show as News and Public Affairs Director where she manages producers, hosts local interviews and programs, oversees and manages web stories and establishes focus areas of programming like phenology, clean energy, Indigenous voices, Strong Women, local foods, clean energy, economic development and more. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North. In 2018 Heidi received the “Building Bridges in Media” award from the Islamic Resource Group for her work on KAXE/KBXE hosting conversations about anti-Muslim movements in rural Minnesota. During the pandemic, Heidi hosted 14 months of a weekly statewide conversation on COVID-19 for the AMPERS network.
As a mail carrier in rural Grand Rapids, Minn., for 35 years, John Latimer put his own stamp on a career that delivered more than letters. Indeed, while driving the hundred-mile round-trip daily route, he passed the time by observing and recording seasonal changes in nature, learning everything he could about the area’s weather, plants and animals, and becoming the go-to guy who could answer customers’ questions about what they were seeing in the environment.