ALBERT LEA, Minnesota — The mostly flat farmland of northern Iowa can be pretty in its own way, but when traveling north on Interstate 35, there are two very clear indications that you’ve left the state. cyclones and you have entered the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The first is a massive sign, right on the border, that says “Welcome to Minnesota.” Next, maybe 10 minutes further north, is a bridge across the sprawling expanse of Lake Albert Lea, which tells drivers, “Bye Iowa, you are now in lake country.

This wide, shallow body of water is the centerpiece of

Myre-Big Island State Park

, which was created shortly after World War II to preserve the 116-acre forested island that gave the park its name. Since that beginning, the park now includes nearly 1,800 acres of public land and 16 miles of hiking trails.

track chair
Brittanie Wilson of the Minnesota Council on Disability piloted an all-terrain track chair around the Big Island Trail at Myre-Big Island State Park on June 1, 2022.

Contributed / Deborah Rose / Minnesota DNR

Advances in Accessibility

It was the death of a Minnesota winter the first time Brittanie Wilson had the opportunity to try an all-terrain trail chair. Wilson, director of communications for the Minnesota Council on Disability, has used a wheelchair to get around her whole life. Trail chairs can take users off paved trails over gravel, snow, whatever. It was a thrill Wilson won’t forget, even in the winter.

“You’re enveloped in such freedom that you don’t even notice the cold,” said Wilson, who was on hand at Myre-Big Island on a recent sunny weekday to promote the growing availability of trail chairs ( many of which are made in Marshall, Minnesota) at five Minnesota state parks – Camden, Crow Wing, Lake Bemidji and Maplewood are the others) and other county and city parks this summer.

Indeed, while hiking the 1.5-mile loop around the perimeter of the Big Island later in the day, visitors could see the tracks of chair users who had come out to view parts of the park that are not normally not accessible via traditional wheelchairs.

“Access benefits everyone,” Wilson said, smiling broadly.

Myre-Big Island State Park
With multiple access points, limited motorized boat traffic, and many types of fish, Myre-Big Island State Park’s Lake Albert Lea is known to be a great place for young anglers to learn how to fish. to fish.

Contributed / Deborah Rose / Minnesota DNR

In addition to on-site camping, bird watching and biking, the lake offers a good introduction to paddle sports and fishing, according to Park Superintendent Adam Kurtz.

“The lake is really, really shallow. It’s a pretty big body of water, but it’s only about 6 feet deep at its deepest point,” Kurtz said. “That’s why it’s such a good lake for paddling, because there’s not a lot of boat traffic creating waves… There’s a population of walleye, northern, and crappie in the lake. Unfortunately, you have to work pretty hard to get them. I like to tell people that this is a great lake to teach fishing.

With a wide variety of bulk meat burgers (which come with a spoon so diners don’t miss a bite) and thick malts and milkshakes prepared on the premises, the Tendermaid in Austin, Minn., is a popular spot after hiking for visitors. at Myre-Big Island State Park.

Jess Myers / Forum News Service

It’s a simple biological fact: hiking makes you hungry. To quell that rumble in your stomach, it’s about 20 minutes east of the park to find Austin, which is the home of SPAM and the birthplace of legendary football coach and broadcaster John Madden. For more than 80 years, hungry visitors have stopped at the


, a small take-out restaurant only within sight of the city’s famous SPAM museum, for its incredible bulk meat burgers and milkshakes. Each order comes with a scoop, which isn’t for the drink, but for scooping up the occasional nugget of loose meat that falls from your burger. You won’t want to miss a piece.

This article is part of the “

Minnesota’s backyard

“series that returns for the summer of 2022.


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