One lovely summer afternoon in 2008, I walked westbound over the crest of an Uptown-area hill and felt a bit like a New World explorer as I came down the other side.
In front of me was a body of water of significant size I hadn’t laid eyes on previously. Folks were running along a paved track hugging the perimeter of its elongated northern end, while another track a bit further away from the shore carried a string of bicyclists.
Only upon returning to my apartment off 25th and Lyndale and firing up my computer did I learn that the body of water in question was Lake of the Isles. Before that day I’d heard of it, of course, but had never been there. I had no idea it was located so close to Uptown.
I’m sure I’m not the only person to have a similar experience shortly after moving to Minneapolis. Though I grew up in the Twin Cities exurb of Forest Lake and went to college at Hamline in St. Paul, I hadn’t explored much of Minneapolis west of Hennepin Avenue when I moved to town from D.C. in 2007, and that was still the case by the time winter turned to spring the following year. I’d been to Lake Calhoun and was in the habit of running along the Midtown Greenway at the time, but it took serendipity to introduce me to the Minneapolis lake that quickly became my favorite due to its relative quietude and proximity to my apartment.
Since then, I’ve run literally thousands of miles around Isles in 2.6-mile increments. I’ve lived in a somewhat shoddy Franklin and Aldrich apartment building for four years and probably would’ve moved long ago if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s within walking distance of the lake I love.
This past winter I went to the extent of forsaking a gym membership. Instead, I layered up and ran around Isles all winter long — something that wouldn’t be possible in icy Minnesota if one of the Isles paths wasn’t plowed every morning like clockwork.
I plan on doing the same thing again next winter. As someone who spends much of my working life at a computer, I relish the opportunity running outside provides to disconnect from the digital world for an hour or so. In fact, aside from showering and sleeping, running is often the only time I’m away from my phone.
Isles is particularly therapeutic. Thanks to the dual pedestrian and bike tracks, runners runners don’t have to contend with cars or bikes. You can simply slip into your reptilian brain and run without needing to keep your head on a swivel.
Once you’ve gotten into the habit of that sort thing, you realize how much running down streets pales in comparison. I speak from ample experience — while at Hamline, I was in the habit of running down Minnehaha Avenue from campus to Frogtown and back. I didn’t mind it at the time, but now I’m spoiled and it’d be hard to get back in the habit of sidewalk running.
And that brings me to the point of this post. I’m not breaking news here, but it takes public dollars not only to construct the Chain of Lakes trails but also to maintain them so folks can enjoy hassle-free runs or rides all year round.
Amenities of that sort make it hard for me to think about leaving Minneapolis, even though I currently work in St. Paul and would love to commute via the Green Line instead of driving (but perhaps that’s a topic for another post).
Sure, in a vacuum, we’d all like to keep as much of our income as possible and fork over less to the government in taxes. But in cases like the Chain of Lakes trails, it’s worth at least reflecting on what we get in return — especially at a time when funding for parks is becoming a controversial issue in Minneapolis. And even if you aren’t a runner, there’s no shortage of ways a person can enjoy Minneapolis’s parks, whether it be walking, sitting on a beach with a book, or even mountain biking. (Happily, it appears many Minneapolis residents are thinking along the same wavelength I am.)
In my case, the enjoyment I get from peaceful lakeside runs, even in the dead of winter, and the savings I realize from not having to pay for a gym membership make it well worth whatever added expense is passed along to me by the property owner who rents me my apartment. Then again, I’m the type of runner who will head to the lake even in negative temperatures, so take my perspective for what it’s worth.
— Welcome to my new blog project. To begin with, each week I’ll be publishing a couple pieces spanning the gamut from columns like the one above to short nonfiction stories to the occasional sports hot take. I’m also planning a weekly podcast hosted by yours truly and featuring topical interviews with notable Twin Citians, so stay tuned!
As always, thanks for reading, and your feedback is appreciated.