WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Skies were blue on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 9, and high temperatures for the day were forecast to be as warm as 60 degrees in extreme southwest Minnesota.

Although it may not have felt like it, winter is right around the corner, and the area is ready for another season of seasonal recreation filled with multiple opportunities.

Skiing and biking

“We have a trail out in Olson Park that we groom for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, whatever people would like to do,” Worthington Public Works Director Todd Wietzema said. “We also groom the trail at the old Prairie View golf course, and we’ve also got the ice skating rink in Centennial Park that we flood.”

It was the grassroots efforts of four community residents — combined with a sponsorship from the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation — that led to the creation of the Olson Park trail, which became available for use during the winter of 2016-2017. Mike Woll, Jay Milbrandt, Joe VonHoltum and Ryan DeJounge (who has since relocated) spearheaded the effort.

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“Joe and I had been talking about biking and the desire to have more trails, and Joe and Jay Milbrandt and Ryan had been talking about the availability of trails and specifically have an interest in winter biking and fat tire bikes,” Woll explained shortly before the trail opened. “They have become quite a deal, and one of the advantages of them in Minnesota is that you’re able to ride them on the snow and through snow. They had some interest in that, and Jay had been thinking more and more about accessibility and trails and other things that can be done, including cross country.”

“I was playing the disc golf course and remarked at how the city of Worthington has mowed beautiful trails connecting all of the disc golf holes,” Milbrandt recalled. “It struck me that we could capitalize on this during the winter.”

Conservations soon took place with Wietzema about allowing a trail in Olson Park, and if the public works department would be able to pull a cross country trail groomer through the grounds. Bedford Industries and Mike Woll Investment Office contributed financially toward the purchase of a groomer, and the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation approved up to $3,000 for the groomer as well as signage for the trail.

The Olson Park trail is about three-quarters of a mile long, Wietzema said. Out at the former Prairie View course, Wietzema and his crew groom a trail of about 1 3/4 miles in length that was established soon after the Olson Park site.

“We thought this would be a good idea and something the city could do to help out with some winter recreation here,” Wietzema said. “Normally we like to groom the trails a lot in the first couple snowfalls to get a good foundation base, and then we groom them as time permits. It doesn’t really cost the city … it’s just worked into our normal operations budget.

“People have told us that they really enjoy them,” Wietzema continued. “I think they get used more than what just the general public realizes. We don’t have a count, as there’s no fee or registration.”

On ice

Years ago, the city’s Millard Walker Park was home to an outdoor skating rink. Wietzema said the rink ceased to be soon after the opening of the Worthington Ice Arena, which offered indoor skating opportunities.

There was nostalgia about — and desire for — another outdoor rink, however, and city staff listened. Wietzema stated that the new outdoor skating space, located near the basketball, tennis and pickleball courts in Centennial Park, was completed near the start of summer 2017..

“What it was intended to be was an ice skating rink in the wintertime and something like a roller hockey rink in the summertime,” he explained, adding that the rink is also home to soccer games and other activities during warm weather months.

City staff puts ice in the rink area when weather permits. Though a peek at the upcoming weather forecast makes it appear that ice at Centennial Park doesn’t seem likely soon, there’s little doubt that an effort to “winterize” will be made as soon as possible.

Worthington's Olson Park, shown in this November 2016 photo, features a groomed trail for winter recreational activities such as cross country skiing, snowshoeing and fat-tire bicycling. Ryan McGaughey / Forum News Service
Worthington's Olson Park, shown in this November 2016 photo, features a groomed trail for winter recreational activities such as cross country skiing, snowshoeing and fat-tire bicycling. Ryan McGaughey / Forum News Service

Other amenities

While the outdoor skating rink and Olson Park and Prairie View trails have proven popular, the city also continues maintaining the community’s bike trail system throughout the cold-weather months.

“The bike trails are open for walking and hiking,” Weitzema said. “As soon as we have the roads clear (after a snowfall), we start working on the bike trails. Plus, some of our new restrooms around the lake will be open in the winter and heated for people using the trails — they’re at Centennial Park and Olson Park, and they will be open soon at Slater Park.”

Wietzema added that there has been past discussion about using a groomer on a frozen Lake Okabena for cross country skiing trails during the winter. He also noted that the city maintains the aerators on the lake, which helps to promote recreational activity there year-round.

Though it’s not a city of Worthington entity, the Frosty Riders Snowmobile Club continues to maintain trail systems in Worthington and around the area, with club members planning weekend outings and activities and maintaining trails. The club, which is on Facebook as “Frosty Riders Inc,” has its annual meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 19.

Not to be forgotten in the wintertime are ice fishing opportunities along Lake Okabena, along others. There are 15 lakes in Nobles County ranging in size from nine acres to 1,584 acres.