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BEST PLACE TO HIKE Minneapolis 2005 - Frontenac State Park

See the parade of SUVS on a Saturday morning, pulling boats with 800-horsepower engines, clogging the interstates on a lemming-like journey northward? This should be your cue to follow the compass in the opposite direction. Ninety-odd minutes southeast of the cities lies the less trafficked Frontenac State Park--a bluff site on Lake Pepin that is ridiculously rich in regional history and birdlife. It also offers a few vertiginous hiking trails that might just leave your thighs burning. The first North Americans to lose their wind winding up these switchbacks came from the Hopeswellian culture some 2,000 years ago. Dakota and Fox Indians followed, finding sacred status in an area surrounding the giant In-Yan-Teopa rock. In 1727, René Boucher threw together a few twigs and named it Fort Beauhamois, in honor of the Marquis de Beauhamois--the governor-general of New France. (Today, we call it Canada.) Where guns go, Jesuits follow, and it's likely Frontenac hosted the first church in the state. (Archeologists have yet to find the precise site.) In the next century, the little town would flourish as a quarry, timber, and resort town, attracting riverboat dandies from as far away as New Orleans. Today, the park is more likely to host such distant visitors as the sanderling and the ruddy tumstone, wading birds that commute--make that migrate--from the far stretches of South America up to the Arctic. You won't be walking so far. There are only 13 miles of hiking trails here, but it's a short, steep slide down to the smooth stones at the water's edge.

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