A MAGAZINE FOR AND ABOUT OUR REGION'S OUTDOORSMEN
Ranger Glenn Longtime park caretaker is friend to campers far and wide
PAINTING PICTURES WITH GLASS
Stained glass artist Robert Larson has studied numerous forms of art and architecture to create his own unique style
GETTING OUTDOORS IS A FAMILY AFFAIR FOR DAVIS FAMILY
Matt Davis, of rural Detroit Lakes, is part of an effort to bring 250 miles of trails to tri-state area
John Weber of rural Nevis lives out his dream of being a scientist and students share their experiences as members of the Perham Jacket fishing team
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A PUBLICATION OF:
Contents TABLE OF
A special supplement to the October 22, 2022 Detroit Lakes Tribune and Park Rapids Enterprise, and October 27, 2022 Perham Focus and Wadena Pioneer Journal.
EDITORIAL CONTRIBUTORS Barbie Porter Shannon Geisen Vicki Gerdes Michael Johnson Lorie Skarpness Elizabeth Vierkant ADVERTISING Britanie Rentz Kathy Dennis Kristy Helmbrecht Julie Lake Jayne Merila Elizabeth Molacek Robin Stalley Kelly Hoeke
A rigorous row
The best canoe racers from around North and Central America travel to Michigan for the ultra-competitive AuSable River Canoe Marathon. Jim Harwood of Laporte, Minnesota is one of those racers.
Painting pictures with glass
Nature inspires Detroit Lakes stained glass artist Robert Larson. Larson loves anything that gets him outside, from photography to wood carving and even paleontology.
‘Ranger Glenn’: Longtime park caretaker is friend to campers far and wide
Park Maintenance Supervisor Glenn Motzko has transformed Crow Wing River campgrounds into a natural wonder that visitors from all over can’t help but admire.
MAGAZINE EDITOR Tris Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org PUBLISHER Devlyn Brooks email@example.com PAGE DESIGN Jamie Holte firstname.lastname@example.org
A MAGAZINE FOR AND ABOUT OUR REGION'S OUTDOORSMEN
Ranger Glenn Longtime park caretaker is friend to campers far and wide
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Getting outdoors is a family affair for Davis family
Matt Davis turned his childhood passion for nature into a career, and he’s sharing that passion with his family.
Hunting and fishing dates John Weber, citizen scientist
Butterfly populations are an important indicator of climate health, that’s one reason why citizen scientist John Weber takes count of them every season from the meadow in his front yard.
46 ‘There’s no better thing’ — Perham kids experience the great outdoors in competitive fishing league Jacket fishing team gives students an opportunity to unplug from technology and compete to catch the biggest fish while instilling an appreciation for the outdoors.
PAINTING PICTURES WITH GLASS Stained glass artist Robert Larson has studied numerous forms of art and architecture to create his own unique style
GETTING OUTDOORS IS A FAMILY AFFAIR FOR DAVIS FAMILY
Matt Davis, of rural Detroit Lakes, is part of an effort to bring 250 miles of trails to tri-state area
John Weber of rural Nevis lives out his dream of being a scientist and students share their experiences as members of the Perham Jacket fishing team
On the cover Glenn Motzko by Michael Johnson / Wadena Pioneer Journal
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A RIGOROUS ROW Jim Harwood is a renowned canoe racer, having twice won a grueling, 120-mile canoe marathon in Michigan. Here, he completes the 2022 Minnesota Canoe Championship on the Mississippi River. Photos by Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise
Canoe racing is a lesser known sport in the north woods Shannon Geisen | Park Rapids Enterprise
s canoes whisk through water, paddles furiously stabbing the river, the paddler in the stern issues a single command: “hut.” That’s the signal that they switch which side they are paddling on. Welcome to canoe racing.
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ABOVE: Amy Godwin, seen in the bow of No. 58 canoe, strokes toward the finish with teammate Io Harberts.
It’s an intensely vigorous sport, built on stamina, not strength. Originally from Grayling, Michigan, Jim Harwood of Laporte, Minnesota, has been canoe racing since he was about 16. “That’s the mecca of canoe racing there,” he said of his hometown. Organized by a nonprofit volunteer organization in 1947, the AuSable River Canoe Marathon is a nonstop canoe race, beginning at the AuSable River in Grayling and ending 120 miles later near the shores of Lake Huron in Oscoda, Michigan. It may be the oldest marathon canoe race in the U.S. and it certainly is the
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longest nonstop canoe-only race in the nation. According to the race’s website (www.ausablecanoemarathon.org), “Contestants must navigate the narrow, winding upper stretch in total darkness as well as stump-filled ponds and the blazing July sun in the lower stretch.” Organizers make it clear: “This race is not a recreational canoe float, but a professional, ultra-competitive race with the very best professional paddles from around North and Central America.” The AuSable River Canoe Marathon also stakes its claim as the “world’s toughest spectator race.” Considered an important part of the marathon, spectators cheer and motivate their favorite teams through the night and rugged terrain.
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Harwood won the marathon – twice. In 2006, with his paddling partner, Allen Limberg, they took top honors by paddling the 120 miles in 14 hours and 33 minutes.
We’ve always been Boundary Water trippers. We thought we were pretty fast – until we started canoe racing. Chris Godwin, canoe racer
Bemidji race attracts pros John Arenz organizes the Minnesota Canoe Championships, held each midSeptember in Bemidji. In recent years, the contest has launched from where the Mississippi River flows out of Lake Bemidji. “The top paddlers are here,” Arenz said, noting that Harwood is a well-known racer. The statewide competition attracts many paddlers who have performed well. “I’d say we have two-thirds of the best paddlers in the state,” he said. “The other one-third, it’s a long drive. They’re almost all from the metro area.” The annual competition began in 1995. Previously known as the Bemidji Headwaters Canoe Race, Arenz explained both the name, location and format have changed throughout the years. For instance, the race used to start at Power Dam Road and head toward the Paul Bunyan statue. “We actually adopted the Minnesota Championships from Hackensack. They used to have the solo and double championship. They decided they didn’t want to do it anymore, so we took over the so-called championship.” Harwood has competed three or four times in the Bemidji contest.
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a little stiffer, more durable,” Harwood explained. The graphite, lightweight paddle is also specially designed for canoe racing. “They come in at 10-12 ounces,” Arenz said. In order to stay upright, paddlers joke that “you have to keep your gum centered in your mouth.” While unstable, it’s built for speed. Harwood describes it as “like an Olympic-style boat.” “Most people go swimming the first time they try it,” Arenz said. Harwood moved to Minnesota from Colorado. “I knew a few paddlers here that I’ve raced with through the years.” The camaraderie is evident as racers cheer for one another as they cross the finish line. Harwood said he’s known some of his fellow paddlers for 20 years or more. While the Minnesota Canoe Championship is a fun last hurrah for the season, other contests are more fiercely competitive. Harwood said the “Triple Crown” of canoe racing is in New York, Michigan and Quebec, Canada. Those have significant cash rewards, if you win. Like any sport, Harwood said it can get expensive. A canoe costs up to $5,000. The paddle is $300. Harwood trains regularly on Garfield Lake or Kabekona Lake. “Just to keep in shape. I don’t train as heavy as I used to do when I was younger. I kinda like to keep the fat off, you know,” he said.
His C1-190 canoe is made of Kevlar. It’s a one-person canoe. “Probably weighs 29-30 pounds,” he said.
“Most of them are made out of graphite now. That’s the black ones. The graphites are
Chris and Amy Godwin of Nevis have been canoe racing for about nine years.
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“We’ve always been Boundary Waters trippers. We thought we were pretty fast – until we started canoe racing,” Chris said.
Chris recalled, “She got in the bow of a pro boat with me. She didn’t know how abnormal it was to paddle at 60 strokes per minute.”
“Until we met Jim,” added Amy.
“I had no idea. I just did what he told me to do,” Amy said, laughing.
Chris continued, “We thought strength had a lot to do with canoe racing and then we did our first canoe race. We got beat really, really, really bad. We were watching other people with a really high stroke rate, high cadence and started to emulate what they were doing. The canoe crowd is nice because they really help each other out.” Chris’ first competition was the Red Bridge Run. It was a professional and citizen canoe race, held in Park Rapids. Citizen class racers, touring and pro racers paddled a course on the Fish Hook River between Fish Hook Lake and the dam in Park Rapids. At the end of the event, Anne Manns pulled up alongside him. “She said, ‘Good race. You want to know what you were doing wrong?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ It just kind of developed from there.” He’s also participated in the Chippewa Triathlon, a unique event that combines canoeing, biking and running, all through the Chippewa National Forest in Cass Lake. They’ve also done the Snake River Canoe Race in Mora, Minnesota.
Smoothness and coordination are key, Chris said, similar to dragon boat teams. At this year’s Minnesota Canoe Championship, Amy paddled in the women’s tandem event with Io Harberts, a 28-year veteran of canoe racing. It was their first race together, mainly for fun. Chris raced solo. “I was pretty slow today,” he said of his last-place finish. What made the difference? “Yesterday’s home improvement project,” Amy said. “And we haven’t been training as often,” Chris added. Chris said most of his boats are 20 years old, but they’ve held their value. They’re worth a couple thousand dollars. Chris and Harwood occasionally train together. They definitely want to introduce more people to the sport, particularly in the north woods.
“I don’t do all of them with him, but I do some of them,” Amy said.
Canoe racing athletes are smaller in number in northern Minnesota. Chris said they would love to have a large group of paddlers who could train and hold events.
Amy moved to Minnesota from Indiana. She’d never been in a canoe before.
For more information, visit the Minnesota Canoe Association (https://mca.clubexpress.com).
Shannon Geisen can be reached at email@example.com.
Chris Godwin of Nevis, Minn. heads toward the finish line in the men’s solo event in Bemidji. 12 | Flannel Shirts 2022
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Vicki Gerdes | Detroit Lakes Tribune
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Stained glass artist Robert Larson has studied numerous forms of art and architecture to create his own, unique style
ature photography. Wood carving. Paleontology. Longtime Detroit Lakes resident Robert Larson has pursued a variety of hobbies in his life. But it is his stained glass art for which he is perhaps best known: Three of his stained glass windows grace one of the walls of the chapel at Ecumen Detroit Lakes. Many more of his works can be found in area homes and churches, as well as the Pickerel Lake home he shares with
Each of these stained glass windows, which hang in the Emmanuel Chapel at Ecumen Detroit Lakes, was created using the same background glass, which allows the three panels to flow into each other and gives them the look of a single piece of art. The 2x5-foot panels were commissioned for the chapel by former Ecumen chaplain Vicki Marthaler, with the theme of “Faith, hope and love.” Contributed / Robert Larson
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This image shows how stained glass artist Robert Larson fits pieces of differently colored glass onto a pattern that he has drawn, before adding the leading that holds them together. Contributed / Robert Larson
his wife, Ann Newgard-Larson, the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes. The Ecumen windows are each ensconced in side-by-side wooden boxes that can be lit from within, giving them the appearance of being lit by the sun. “The windows were commissioned by (former Ecumen chaplain) Vicki Marthaler,” Larson said. “She chose the theme of ‘faith, hope and love,’” he added, noting that he chose to design something that “wasn’t overtly religious,” due to the chapel being ecumenical in nature, rather than a place of worship for a singular faith. He chose nature scenes to embody each of the three themes, creating three 2x5-foot windows 16 | Flannel Shirts 2022
This photo shows how glass artist Robert Larson adds the leading in between intricately carved pieces of glass, using carpentry nails to hold each section in place as the leading cools and the pieces solidify. Contributed / Robert Larson
that were designed to hang side-by-side in the chapel, as a single work of art.
— were also inspired by photos he has taken out at the refuge over the years.
He has also done windows for Bakke Lutheran Church, in rural Detroit Lakes, and the home of Fargo artist Ellen Diederich, to name just a few.
Currently, he is working on a commissioned piece. The pattern is lying on his worktable just waiting for him to match it with carefully cut pieces of glass. The pieces are selected according to the color of the objects they represent, such as various shades of green glass for foliage and grass and blue for the sky.
In addition, he has donated stained glass art to the Toast to Tamarac silent auction for many years. “It’s for a great cause,” Larson said, noting that the proceeds from the Toast to Tamarac go to support environmental education programs at the wildlife refuge, where he has been a frequent visitor over the years.
It’s not a quick learning process. There are a lot of steps.
In fact, art prints of several of Larson’s nature photos – all taken at Tamarac – can be found for sale at the Friends of Tamarac Nature Store inside the refuge’s Visitor Center, and he has taken some of his photographs and printed them out on notecards, which he donates to be sold at the Visitor Center.
Many of Larson’s stained glass works — particularly those that he has donated for the Friends’ fundraising auction
Glass art first came to Larson’s attention through his love of antiques, he added. “I’d been collecting sectional bookcases with leaded windows,” Larson said, “and I wanted to build windows like those, so I took a class in Fargo.” “It’s not a quick learning process,” he said. “There are a lot of steps.”
He was so good that the studio where he took classes, Lightbenders, eventually ended up hiring him as an instructor. “I taught stained glass art at Lightbenders for many years,” he said.
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TOP TO BOTTOM: This hand-cranked wooden toy was created by Detroit Lakes artist Robert Larson. Larson first got into creating leaded glass windows through his love of antiques, such as this bookcase with leaded glass windows covering its shelves. Vicki Gerdes / Flannel Shirts
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There have been a few local exhibits of his work over the years: In the summer of 2010, some of his stained glass art was featured in an exhibit at Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes. In a story about the exhibit that appeared in the Detroit Lakes Tribune, he talked about his educational background in architecture, industrial illustration, graphic design and art, with an emphasis in art history and photography. He said he studied art history for a summer in Europe, where he visited a number of Gothic cathedrals. “I was impressed with the stained glass windows, which played a large part in establishing the character of these churches,” he added. Also, during several visits to New York City, Larson viewed the stained glass windows of legendary artist Louis Comfort Tiffany in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a collection of stained-glass Tiffany lamps at the New York Historical Society. “Tiffany created glass to reflect the color and tonal variations found in nature,” he said. “In a way, he was able to paint pictures using glass.” This glass window was created by Larson using both glass etching and leading techniques. Vicki Gerdes / Flannel Shirts
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Larson’s own work is strongly influenced by Tiffany, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright, whose Prairie School of Architecture designed windows, in direct contrast to the era of Tiffany, were based on nature but used strong geometric elements and solid earth-tone colors. Some of those geometric designs can be found in the windows of Larson’s own home, which he designed himself. “I combine the interplay of lights and darks of multicolored glass of Tiffany with the illustrative details of Wright to create lifelike images in a more patterned environment,” is how he described a series of windows he had done, featuring irises, tulips and sunflowers. Larson also has several Tiffany-style lamps in his home, which he created himself. Unlike windows or other flat pieces, the Tiffany-style lamps must be fashioned using PVC forms to hold the glass in place, he explained, because they are created to be three-dimensional, rather than to lay or hang on a flat surface. He also uses copper foil to wrap around the individual pieces, rather than lead, and adds a copper-like patina to the sauter that adheres the pieces together. Larson has also dabbled in many other interests over the years, as can be seen in some of the artifacts decorating his home: In one corner, there are some artifacts that reflect the 15-plus years he spent as an amateur paleontologist at Concordia College in Moorhead, frequently going on digs with his fellow students. In a 2013 Tribune story about his work in paleontology, Larson said he had an early interest in dinosaurs, but didn’t pursue it until much later, when his wife handed him a brochure about a course in paleontology at Concordia. After taking the five-week course, he stayed on at the college. “Obviously I was a much older than average student, but I became a colleague,” Larson said. He took the initial class with the intention of going on a dinosaur dig, which he eventually got to experience multiple times, at locations ranging from Lemmon, South Dakota, to Shell, Wyoming and Jordan, Montana “I fell in love with the whole process,” he said. It’s just one of many such loves that Larson has experienced over the years, and he expects to find many more: “I’m just a very curious artist, and there are many different aspects of art.” 20 | Flannel Shirts 2022
TOP TO BOTTOM: This red-tailed hawk is one of several animals that Larson has photographed at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. Some of the images are used as inspiration for his stained glass windows. This tree frog was photographed at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge by Larson. Contributed / Robert Larson
These stained glass lamps were crafted by Larson in the style of famed glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, whom Larson says has been a strong influence on his own work. Vicki Gerdes / Flannel Shirts
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‘RANGER GLENN’: Longtime park caretaker is friend to campers far and wide
Michael Johnson | Wadena Pioneer Journal
ecause of its low gradient, clear water, stable flow and numerous access points, the Crow Wing River is considered to be one of Minnesota’s best family-oriented canoe routes,” according to a brochure from the Minnesota DNR about the Crow Wing River State Trail. One man has been working to maintain that claim to fame for the last 24 years. They call him “Ranger Glenn.” Glenn Motzko is the park maintenance supervisor for the Wadena County Park System. Michael Johnson / Wadena Pioneer Journal
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If You Go “Ranger Glenn” Motzko has been parks maintenance supervisor for Wadena County Parks for 24 years and has a love for the Crow Wing River system that campers and paddlers can’t help but pick up on. He’s referred to as “ranger” as he is often the one seen maintaining and caring for the nine Wadena County campgrounds nestled along the Crow
WHERE: Wadena County Parks along the Crow Wing River are located from the north end of the Huntersville State Forest, down to Staples, Minnesota, and include nine sites with access to the river. All are located 1-5 miles apart to allow for an easy float from one stop to another. HOW: These are primitive sites, without hookups. Plan accordingly. Some sites are not suitable for even small campers, others offer more space. Visit the Wadena County Park page online for more information at http://www.co.wadena. mn.us/217/Parks COST: It’s $14 per site, per night.
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Wing River. He patrols them on the weekends as well to note who is using them and how.
If everybody is having a good old time, so be it, enjoy yourself. As long as you’re not wrecking nothing, disturbing others, paying your camping fees. Glenn Motzko, Wadena County parks maintenance supervisor
“There’s a piece of me everywhere you look,” Motzko said as he sat inside Stigman’s Mound in Nimrod, that’s one of many historic sites along the Crow Wing River that he regularly visits. On that particular day, light rain fell and some foliage in the area was just starting to give up its most brilliant of colors, which would soon be a dazzling display for fans of fall. Motzko, who grew up near Staples and now calls Oylen, Minnesota, home, has been living and working along this river for most of his life. He absolutely loves the office view as he’s trimming brush or replacing picnic tables and looking out over the slow moving river. He made the move from the rat race of life in the cities to the north woods years ago and has never looked back. He recalled his move out to a trailer in the woods near Brainerd without power or running water. “If you don’t pursue your dreams, dreams are all they’ll ever be,” he told his previous co-workers when he moved into the woods with his now ex-wife.
Glenn Motzko holds a smallmouth bass he caught in the Crow Wing River. Contributed photo 24 | Flannel Shirts 2022
Life in Brainerd only lasted a year, but he soon found a spot in Oylen that suited his desire to be in one of the more untamed areas of the state near the Crow Wing River.
A trail to a campsite at Little White Dog is littered with fresh fallen leaves (not garbage) in September 2022. Michael Johnson / Wadena Pioneer Journal
He makes some strong claims about river fishing that may cause people to pause. It’s not widely known as a strong fishery but he believes that it’s hard to beat. “The next state record might well come out of this river because there is a lot of forage fish,” Motzko said. He’s got footage to back up his claim as he skips through his phone photos to show off a 4-pound bass he recently pulled from under a bridge. That’s far from a state record fish, but it’s a fine fish from what’s known as a rather shallow river. “Because of its sandy bottom, sparse aquatic vegetation and lack of deep pools, the Crow Wing is not a good game fish river and supports only a limited number of waterfowl. Northern redhorse and white sucker, both rough fish, are the river’s most
Scenes like these with a full crew of men ready to build the future was commonplace even in places like Nimrod, Minnesota, where a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was once operating in the 1930s. Eric Mortenson / Minnesota Historical Society
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common species,” reads an excerpt from the Minnesota DNR’s website about the Crow Wing River State Water Trail. That’s a description Motzko is ready and willing to debate as he talks of little kids who have stayed at campgrounds with no experience in catching fish and no equipment. Before they leave he has pulled a bit of line and tree branch together to get the kids their first fish. But like anything about this stretch of river, he’s ready to promote it as one of the best around. “You have to put a little bit of ownership into it,” Motzko said in his favorite park along the chain, “Little White Dog,” named for quite literally, a little white dog that a pioneer once owned near that park. In that park, he recalls the picnic table that he built with his daughter when she was still a little tyke. He speaks of how the bank was completely eroded from canoes being pulled in and out of the gradual slope. He worked on reconstructing the bank with a crew to add large rocks by hand, then smaller rocks, logs, and finally reestablishing native vegetation until they brought the site back to what it is now, which is one that stops erosion and creates habitat for water and land creatures. A concrete landing
nearby is now the main entry and exit point and withstands erosion and heavy canoe traffic. Those have been added at five of the nine parks and have made a world of difference in keeping the sites from deteriorating. While Motzko loves the work of mowing, trimming and generally keeping the sites looking clean he said that’s something that takes daily attention during the camping season. While showing off his latest project, erecting a monument to a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp near Nimrod, at Frame’s Landing, he explained that this area was something special long before he got here. He’s just been working to keep it special and by preserving history, explain how these places came to be. He can’t help but pick up little bits of garbage left by visitors to the parks as he’s walking along. It’s as if he’s tidying up his living room when a guest comes over. “If somebody sees a bottle on the ground, they’ll add to it,” Motzko explained. That’s why he aims to keep the sites free of litter. “I’m constantly picking stuff up,” he said. He recalls a story where he was passing by a popular swimming area on the river and a man tossed an empty bottle into the river. He pulled over, walked down
Paddlers enjoy a paddle down the Crow Wing River in September 2022. Contributed / WDC Schools to the man and let him know that he could either go get the bottle or Motzko could involve law enforcement. “He went for a swim and came back with two bottles,” Motzko said of the litterbug. Things were known to be a bit crazy down on the river before Motzko came on the scene. He was made aware in the hiring process that being caretaker to these parks meant more than just mowing grass. He was asked if he had a background in construction and a background in dealing with people and alcohol. Motzko was able to say “yes” as he was involved in furniture making and served as a bouncer in past jobs. He was hired. This wild stretch of river tends to involve people who want to have a Campsites are rustic with picnic tables, fire rings and a hand water pump nearby in campgrounds like Little White Dog in September 2022. Michael Johnson / Wadena Pioneer Journal
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good time, from church groups to the highly intoxicated. Motzko often has to speak with groups about the fact that everyone is visiting these sites to enjoy this place and it’s up to them to keep the peace. In instances that they don’t, law enforcement may get involved. He says that’s rare. “If everybody is having a good old time, so be it, enjoy yourself,” Motzko said. “As long as you’re not wrecking nothing, disturbing others, paying your camping fees …”
without a little enforcement, places like these will cease to exist. “This is the nicest river in the state of Minnesota, in my mind,” Motzko said. He considers it safe as there are limited deep holes. It’s clean thanks to a springfed watershed. And in the heat of summer, it gets bathwater warm, something the strings of tubers tend to enjoy each summer.
You can’t wreck these places, just show a little respect for mother nature and everybody else.
One former deputy said the work that Motzko did to turn things around was night and day from the previous free-forall. The work is made clear by people who leave comments on their payment slips. “Beautiful as always,” as one camper put it. Campers come from all over North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa for a taste of this place, even if just for one night. “We decided to stay another night,” commented another camper.
“Ranger Glenn” Motzko
“You can’t wreck these places, just show a little respect for Mother Nature and everybody else,” Motzko said. Not everyone likes to be told what they can and can’t do. But
“And the fishing can be phenomenal,” Motzko reiterated. Motzko looks over comment cards and hears often about the beauty of this place knowing he had a hand in keeping it precious. “They say, ‘It’s heaven,’” Motzko shared about some of the comments.
Outside of working alongside this place and conversing with hundreds of people from across the country who come here to enjoy it, he’s only put his canoe in the water about five times in 25 years. He offers a tip to those who’ve only ever dreamt about enjoying this slice of heaven. “You’ve got to find the time to do it,” Motzko said.
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Getting outdoors is a family affair for Davis family Barbie Porter | Detroit Lakes Tribune
Matt Davis has been connected to nature since childhood and made a career working outdoors. Contributed / Barbie Porter
Matt Davis part of an effort to bring 250 miles of trails to tri-state area
tanding in the woods with sunlight enhancing varying shades of green, Matt Davis smiles as if he just walked through the front door of his house.
“Even as a kid, I loved being in the woods,” the 47-yearold said. “If I dropped my (fishing) pole in the creek, it would be OK because I would go exploring in the woods instead.” In nature, he is calmed by the sounds of flickering leaves, chirping birds and whispering winds. The soft white noise in the background of the forest allows Davis’ mind to wrap itself around questions, puzzles and other quagmires life presents.
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It is also with the earth that Davis makes a living as the North Country Trail (NCT) regional trail coordinator for Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. During his tenure on the job, he estimates 250 miles of trail have been built. However, he quickly recognizes that any accolades for the trail’s progress belong to the trail chapters, volunteers and landowners. “I’ve easily worked with more than 250 people (on the 250 miles of trail that was built in recent years),” he said. The footsteps that have enjoyed the new segments of the NCT span all ages, and include Davis’ wife Stacy and their four children: Teddy, 10, Clara, 12, Ruthy, 15, and Will, 15. The journey for Davis to become an outdoor family man started in his childhood. He grew up in East Hartland, Connecticut. The town has a population of about 2,000 people and has three state forests.
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The son of Rob and Pat Davis explained much of the public land was farmland back in the 1800s. But after harsh growing seasons and continuous late freezes, many abandoned their farms due to being on the brink of starvation. On
& In time, the forest reclaimed Off Salle the land, Davis said. While on adventures in the woods, he often finds remnants of the villages that once existed.
“I’ve found stone walls and cellar holes,” he said. “Where I grew up there was no community center. Our community
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Davis walks on a causeway in Tamarac Wildlife Refuge. The section of the North Country Trail was created atop a location where Native American artifacts reside. Beams and earth were added so the land underneath would not be disrupted.
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Liking the sound of outdoor work, he pursued a forestry degree at the University of Maine.
I was like a Tom Sawyer in sneakers. Matt Davis
As his next big graduation neared, Davis planned a hike on the famous Appalachian Trail before beginning his career. He sought advice from a professor who did volunteer work on the trail, which spans 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine and sees thousands of hikers annually. “He (the professor) recommended I get a membership and become a volunteer,” he said. Davis took the advice to heart and worked with a crew installing rock steps on a mountainous section of the Appalachian Trail. After the work was completed, he fit in time for his hike. While Davis envisioned finding adventure on the trail, he didn’t expect to meet his future wife.
center was going out and playing in the woods; I was like a Tom Sawyer in sneakers.” In addition to kindling a desire to explore, Davis learned the importance of being an active team member for community projects from his parents. He recalled one project that left a lasting love for history was helping build a little league field. The big machinery pulled back the sod and the future baseball players and their parents combed the grounds for rocks and obstructions to be removed. While digging, Davis struck metal.
“We both started the trail on March 1, 1998, on Springer Mountain, Georgia,” he said, noting their first impressions showed both of them how unreliable initial inclinations can be. Davis was hiking with a few guys and all of them happened to be wearing khakis. He said his wife later told him that she deduced they were a pack of frat boys.
“We pulled a Revolutionary War bayonet from the dirt,” he said, noting after the find he learned that President George Washington and his troops had passed through the area. While he may never know who owned the sword, or why it was left, Davis recalled in his childhood he often imagined it was held by the first president of the United States.
“Small enough to know you, Large The outdoors continued to play a big part in Davis’ enough to SERVE you!” life as he moved into his young adult years. Upon high school graduation, his parents (who still live in Connecticut) recommended a career in forestry.
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“I saw her and she was wearing a soccer jersey and had her hair in a braid,” he recalled. “I thought she must be a hiker from Europe.” The two created a friendship on the trail and realized how far off the mark their initial impressions were.
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Davis is the Regional North Country Trail Coordinator for North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Contributed / North Country Trail Association
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Davis and his family often enjoy activities outside, including mountain biking. Over the course of a decade, the Davis family visited every state park.
The next year, after both had finished college, they returned to hike another section of the Appalachian Trail. With life stripped down to the basic survival skills, and a lot of walking in between, their friendship bloomed until eyes met in mutual admiration.
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“That year we fell in love,” he said, adding that marriage followed. The two discussed where they wanted to live and begin a family. Stacy grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota, and the two felt the Midwest may be a better option financially. When a job with the North Country Trail was posted, Davis applied and was hired. The two moved to Detroit Lakes. For his job, Davis helped create the NCT guidebooks and maps, provides outreach and creates community events, as well as helps plan for new trail segments.
Even as a kid, I loved being in the woods,” the 47-year-old said. “If I dropped my (fishing) pole in the creek, it would be OK because I would go exploring in the woods instead.
“When we start planning where the trail might go in a section, we go out in the winter and wander in the woods,” he said. “It’s like I’m a kid again, exploring.” Being outdoors and rolling up his sleeves is a great benefit of his job, but what Davis appreciates most is knowing he is giving everyone the same opportunity to enjoy walking in the woods and connecting with nature. “It can be cheap therapy,” he said. “The phone gets put away and families have conversations.”
For more information visit: https://northcountrytrail.org
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John Weber, citizen scientist Lorie Skarpness Park Rapids Enterprise
ohn Weber of rural Nevis has a passion for the natural world.
He hopes the data he has been collecting on butterfly and dragonfly species for three decades will someday be analyzed and help document the impact human activities have on these “environmental barometers” of climate change in the north woods of Minnesota.
A childhood interest in science Weber grew up in north Omaha, Nebraska. “We didn’t have a TV until I was 7, except when we rented one for a week at Christmas,” he said. “I
John and Marlene Weber often participate in nature events together, such as monarch monitoring at the Wolf Song property in rural Akeley owned by Alan and Kathy Olander. This photo was taken in 2005. Marlene used a clipboard to tally observations in the field. Contributed / Alan Olander
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spent lots of time playing outside with my cousins. The folks had two lots with a big garden and I remember noticing butterflies on the flowers. But they were just in the background and I didn’t really think much about them.” Weber’s interest in science began once they had a television. “There was a program called Mr. Wizard that I watched when I was 10-12 years old,” he said. “Mr. Wizard did science experiments that totally fascinated me. I also got a book about famous scientists and thought when I got a job maybe I could be a scientist. When I was in high school, 62 years ago, I had physics and chemistry classes, but when I went to college at
On his expeditions to document what he sees in the natural world, John wears a sunhat and a photographer’s vest to carry things. A digital recorder is used for his notes, and the pair of binocolars around his neck comes in handy for spotting butterflies, dragonflies and birds. Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
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Omaha University I majored in journalism. The desire I had to be a scientist as a kid was buried in a galaxy far, far away and I never really gave it a thought again until I got a job as a coordinator of research and analytical studies at the Metropolitan Community College in Omaha. I would do surveys and all gather data to help highranking administrators make their decisions.”
totally blown away by these tremendous views.”
Discovering new vistas
“Happily, 45 years ago in 1977 the second phase of being a citizen scientist began when I met Marlene,” he said. “We got married in 1978, and she has been my partner in nature ever since. Marlene introduced me to birds, plants, trees, mushrooms, the smaller pieces that make up the big picture. She got me to appreciate the interconnectedness of all of these, and also I started walking in our neighborhood. When we vacationed here up at Itasca, I started taking pictures of birds and plants. In July 1982, in the bird-friendly yard Marlene had established in south Omaha I started taking pictures of insects. There had to be some kind of affinity, some kind of communication from the butterflies that I picked up on back then. I started photographing the macro: butterflies, moths and dragonflies and have been doing that for 40 years. Suddenly, butterflies were no longer in the background.
It wasn’t until Weber enlisted in the Air Force after college in June 1967 at the heart of the Vietnam war and went out west that he became fascinated with photographing natural vistas.
TOP TO BOTTOM: An orange sulphur enjoys red clover. A Baltimore checkerspot sips from Canada thistle. Contributed / John Weber
“I’ve always been attracted to flying,” he said. “As a kid, I made models of planes and jets and rockets. I was in training for 13 months and ended up as an aircraft maintenance officer. For three and a half years, I was stationed just outside Sacramento, California. The first phase of my becoming a citizen scientist began with the mountains and Pacific Ocean close by. When I was in training, I got my first 35mm camera. That’s when vistas really opened up. I took photos at Point Lobos, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, waterfalls, waves crashing on the shore and also Death Valley. I was just
Later, he got a camera with interchangeable lenses and now takes thousands of shots each year.
A growing interest in butterflies After four-and-a-half years in the Air Force, Weber headed back to Omaha.
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John and Marlene’s log cabin is their sanctuary. Located on Spider Lake, it has inspired them both to stay close to nature. In addition to a wealth of data on butterflies and dragonflies, John has also taken thousands of photos. Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
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They were the focus, and I’ve become even more fanatical since.” Weber’s interest in butterflies led to many years of collecting data about them and 25 years of teaching programs about them at Itasca State Park.
Finding home It was 39 years ago that the couple discovered the land where they now reside on Spider Lake. “It was love at first sight,” he said. “When we drove into what was called Pine Road back then, it was like driving into a state park. We figured it had been logged almost 100 years earlier and the white pines and Norways that were too small to log then were giants. Two days later, we signed on the dotted line.” In 1986, Marlene made a sketch of the log home she wanted built on their three-acre parcel, and it was finished in 1987. The Webers started a six-year countdown to be able to be debt free, retire and move 500 miles north, which they did in 1993. “We kept our noses to the grindstone, and on July 1, 1993, I retired from my paying job which let me focus on being a citizen scientist,” he said. “Marlene had also retired from her job as a nurse. We moved up here, and a few days later, I started my first butterfly counts at Itasca and Deep Portage.” The Weber front yard is a meadow. “We let nature take its course, and for some years, Marlene has planted perennials in her pollinator
garden,” he said. “It’s a habitat for birds, butterflies, chipmunks, you name it. We are the rookies on the block and these critters have been here since the ice age retreated 10,000 years ago. We want to blend in yet also record what we are seeing.”
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European skippers dominated the 2022 butterfly count season. This one is nectaring on gaillardia. Contributed / John Weber
For a number of years, the couple also participated in DNR frog and toad calling surveys that have since been discontinued. “They are another species that is at the front line when it comes to being impacted by climate change,” he said.
A retirement passion Most summer days find 77-yearold John Weber out in the field counting butterflies and dragonflies and making notations using his digital recorder. Marlene used to assist him by documenting what they saw with a pen and clipboard while he jotted observations into a 3x5-inch notebook. “With my digital voice recorder, I can walk and talk, documenting what I see while taking photos and using my binoculars,” he said.
Noticing the small details of nature has taken John 8,657 miles in 27 years. He hopes his detailed observations will be analyzed by scientists and help make people aware of how climate change is impacting the most vulnerable creatures. Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
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While he enjoys gathering data, he doesn’t use a computer, the internet or social media. “I have so many interests that, if I ever went online, it would take me away from my work as a citizen scientist,” he said. “This is the 28th year I’ve been recording every butterfly I see on foot and my 26th year of recording every dragonfly on foot. To keep doing that is crucial. I don’t want to be distracted. For me, butterfly and dragonfly seasons are year-round. I come into my desk and write out what these blurbs on 8 ½ x11 sheets so they can be scanned into a computer some day and then delete them from my recorder. I may go through 250 or 300 pages of stuff and extract butterfly sightings by individual species. I have those notebook pages going back to 1995 and have seen around 104 species. Someday, I hope someone will digitize this stuff.” Since 1998, he has also been doing monarch monitoring at the Wolf Song property in rural Akeley owned by Alan and Kathy Olander. Some of the data Weber has collected has been shared by university professors at scientific conferences. Akeley phrenologist Dallas Hudson is also analyzing some of Weber’s data. Weber’s hope is that his observations will help draw awareness to climate change. “In those three decades of butterfly counts, there are different phases climate change has gone through in a fairly brief time,” he said.
“Butterflies are indicators of the healthiness of different habitats. Dragonflies do one step better because they are both aquatic and terrestrial indicators.” Weber said he hopes area residents and township officials will mow less to preserve the habitat needed by butterflies. “Some people are oblivious to what they’re doing to the environment,” he said. Weber has also participated in meetings of the Minnesota Phrenology Network. “Hopefully, I’m methodical enough in what I’m doing that these pieces of the puzzle will be able to be digitized and uploaded,” he said. “I’m trying to gather as much information as I can so more analytical people down the road can maybe see what pictures these puzzle pieces I’ve been gathering are really showing.” Due to over mowing and spraying of lawn chemicals, Weber said he now often has to drive to a place that is more butterfly friendly before he starts walking to do his observations. Going out in the field to gather data is Weber’s passion. “In 27 years, I recorded 286,914 butterflies on foot on 8,657 miles,” he said. “That’s almost a third of the circumference of the earth, although it’s an average of only 2.05 miles per walk. I did have a bit of a challenge this year with plantar fasciitis that limited my walking.”
Marlene and John Weber have been together for 45 years. He credits her with shifting his attention from photographing landscapes to noticing the smaller things in nature like butterflies. He describes their front yard as a meadow, augmented by flowers Marlene has planted. She feeds the birds all year around, and the couple has participated in the Cornell feeder watch bird counts for 28 years.
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Inserts in his shoes helped him recover, but it took several months. He also overcame degenerative spine issues. He does physical therapy exercises before having breakfast every day. “They’re keeping me painfree,” he said. In addition to counting and monitoring butterflies and dragonflies, since Jan. 1, 1994, Weber has recorded high and low temperatures and precipitation. For 28 years, he and Marlene have participated in the Cornell feeder watches, and they also keep a nature journal. “Marlene feeds the birds year-round and we’ve seen 152 species of birds either swimming in the lake, flying over or feeding on our property,” he said. “We’ve now done 23 of the Christmas bird counts, including one where we spotted the first wild turkeys at Itasca.” The Weber cabin is off the beaten path. They fell in love with the location in 1986 and purchased it. In 1987 they set a goal to be debt free in 6 years and retire there, where they have been ever since. Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
Lorie Skarpness can be reached at email@example.com.
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From left Jack Hendrickson, Jesse Thalmann and Sullivan Hendrickson smile by Thalmann’s boat with fishing gear on hand. Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
‘—TPERHAM here’sKIDSnoEXPERIENCE betterTHEthing’ GREAT OUTDOORS IN COMPETITIVE FISHING LEAGUE Elizabeth Vierkant | Perham Focus
espite being a popular summertime activity in the central Minnesota lakes area, fishing isn’t always an accessible hobby for those interested. To Jacket Fishing Team Head Coach Jesse Thalmann, that’s a real shame. Four years ago, he and the area school districts decided to do something about that.
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“(The Jacket Fishing Team) started with a bunch of schools just coming together and saying, ‘Hey, we want to create a fishing team,’” Thalmann explained. “And Perham was one of those schools. They sent a memo out to all the different schools in the area, and there was a lot of interest. So they created a league.” Perham School District Superintendent Mitch Anderson reached out to Thalmann, who runs his own fishing guide business, and asked him to coach the team. Since then, Thalmann has been heavily involved in bringing fishing to Perham-area youth. That first year this league was introduced, the Jacket Fishing Team had 20 kids on the roster. During its most recent 2022 season, there were 65.
pods get together and fish competitively about five times throughout the summer. Each tournament is catch and release. Members compete both individually and in teams, and each competition is judged on a point system based on fish length. At the end of the season in September, all 22 schools send their top nine anglers to the team championship, where they compete against one another. Despite the league only being four years old, the Perham Jacket Fishing Team has already started to shine.
And that’s what keeps you going out sometimes – just that one fish that you lost. Jack Hendrickson
“It’s been growing and growing and growing,” Thalmann shared. Twenty-two area schools are involved with the fishing league, with teams that span all the way from Breckenridge to Bertha-Hewitt to Alexandria. The schools are split into about four different pods that are close enough to compete against one another, and those
In 2021, they took first place at the team championship, and in 2022, they took second place. Two of these top anglers who competed in the 2022 championships are Prairie Wind Middle School students and brothers, Sullivan (Sully) and Jack Hendrickson.
“So you fish for like two hours or two-and-a-half hours, but it just feels like 15 minutes,” Sully said. “Everything just goes by so fast. It’s just fun to compete with friends and people you know.”
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Jesse Thalmann is the head coach of the Jacket Fishing Team, which is now in its fourth year in Perham. Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus Thalmann added, “It kind of gives them that tournament feel — the competitive side of fishing.”
nice about being able to go out and have a little friendly competition in a team environment.
Though both Sully and Jack have been fishing in the summer for most of their lives — even trying their hands at winter ice fishing — there’s something different and
“It’s just kind of cool to rub it in a little bit about winning (to friends), you know?” Sully joked. For him, it’s also cool to look around and see so many other people fishing.
Though Jack is a lot less competitive than his brother, he still deeply enjoys each competition. For him, it’s more about the fun of fishing. While the competitive nature of the fishing league is a lot of fun for kids like Sully, that’s not the only fun part. According to Thalmann, it’s more
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Sullivan (Sully) Hendrickson, a Prairie Wind Middle School student, loves the competition that comes along with being a part of the Jacket Fishing Team. Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus 50 | Flannel Shirts 2022
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Jack Hendrickson, also a Prairie Wind Middle School student, enjoys the outdoor recreational aspect of being on the Jacket Fishing Team. Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus 52 | Flannel Shirts 2022
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about just getting kids outside and fishing. That’s how this whole league started — they just wanted to get kids outside in the great outdoors. “We have 65 kids on my roster,” Thalmann said. “I would bet there’s a dozen of them that would never have the chance to fish or go fishing outside of this program that we have here. So it’s a good opportunity to get kids that maybe don’t have a boat at home and take them out and compete.” Those who may not otherwise have the chance to get out fishing can now sign up for the team and experience what Jack and Sully love about it so much: getting outside, relaxing and hooking a big fish. That thrill is what they love most about fishing as a hobby. For them, there’s something about never knowing what’s going to happen when they get out on the water for the day. Will they catch a big walleye, or will they catch nothing? That uncertainty is part of the joy. “There’s always just like that one fish that got off, and you’re just going back and trying to catch it,” 54 | Flannel Shirts 2022
Jack joked. “And that’s what keeps you going out sometimes — just that one fish that you lost.” Though both boys love fishing, they’re also just drawn to outdoor activities in general. They even have a YouTube channel, Rusche Boys, where they chronicle all their outdoor recreation from fishing to hunting. As the coach of both Sully and Jack, watching them succeed and excel at fishing has been amazing for Thalmann to see. He’s never had doubts about their abilities as anglers because they’ve always loved to fish, but it’s still so fun for him to see them get their awards at the end of competition evenings. He knows that some kids spend all day looking forward to holding up their plaques at the end of the night, and he loves seeing them do it every single time. He, along with Jack and Sully, would all recommend joining the Jacket Fishing Team. “I just think it’s a fun time to just get kids out and just enjoy the outdoors and get them off technology,” Sully said. “I think they would like it. Even if you don’t do your best, you could still have
fun. Maybe you only catch a few fish, but it’s still fun to just get out.” Thalmann added, “I agree with the technology thing; get away from the technology and get outside, right? Kids are stuck on technology these days, so this is something to break free from that, leave that at home and just enjoy nature. There’s no better thing than just being out in the great outdoors.” The Jacket Fishing Team allows kids from grades 6-12 to join. While the 2022 competitive fishing season is over, there’s always room for more to join the league in the 2023 season. Sully and Jack advise students to look out for the papers the district will hand out toward the end of the school year with a list of activities to sign up for. The paper will have information on an upcoming Jacket Fishing Team meeting for parents and interested kids to attend and sign up. Until then, you can find more information on the team at their Facebook page, Perham Jacket Fishing Team. “It’s a good program to get kids outside, and (fishing) is a lifelong sport,” Thalmann concluded. “It’s something they can carry with them throughout life, you know?”
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