North Dakotans have a rich resource in their backyards, said Susan Wefald, who hopes her new book will encourage people to get out and explore.
Wefald, of Bismarck, who retired in 2009 after 16 years on the state Public Service Commission, shares her experiences as an avid hiker in "Spectacular North Dakota Hikes: Bring the Dog." The North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University in Fargo published the book last fall.
Her guidebook for walkers includes information on 50 hikes, giving readers directions, trail highlights and information on picnic sites and area attractions. At state and national parks where there may be many miles of trails, she makes suggestions for the one-day visitors who need to pick and choose.
Susan Wefald and her dog, Sandy, hike the Travois Trail in Little Missouri State Park.
"They don't have to be hikers to enjoy this book," Wefald said. "But I would love it if people would get out and try some of these. ... Really we should just get out and enjoy our state more. We have so many beautiful places in our state, and I want people to get out and see them."
Her featured hikes vary from a half mile to several miles. Because she often hikes with her goldendoodle, Sandy, when her husband, Bob, or other friends aren't able to come along, most of the trails in her book allow dogs. The book even includes "notes" from Sandy about spying pheasants or crossing creeks as well as Wefald's notes about the hikes.
Wefald said some of the most attractive hikes are a short trip from Minot.
"Northwest of Minot are some beautiful areas of native prairie that are some of the best in the state," she said. "One of the things I wanted to do in writing the book was to emphasize what a resource we have in native prairie."
Wefald wants to dispel that idea that prairie makes for a boring hike. The prairie walks mentioned in her book are filled with visual variety, including ponds, hills and wildlife.
"We should be really looking at our native prairie as a precious resource we want to preserve," she said. "We want to make sure we are preserving beautiful places for future generations to enjoy."
One of her favorite Lake Sakakawea area hikes is the one-mile prairie trail at Audubon National Wildlife Refuge near Coleharbor. The refuge, which hosted 37,000 visitors in 2011, registered 2,000 visits to the prairie trail, up from 650 visits in 2010.
Numbers of hikers have increased in part because of the new visitors center, said Jackie Jacobson, visitor services manager at Audubon Refuge Complex. People are coming to the center and discovering that there are opportunities to get out on the refuge.
"I think what we are seeing is the number of bird watchers is growing," she said. "The nature trail provides a very nice location where the visitors can actually access three different types of habitat so they are getting some of the woodland birds, some of the prairie grassland birds and also wetland birds."
The prairie trail is open year-round, with tours available. The spring is the best time for viewing wildlife, particularly early mornings and before dusk, Jacobson said. Fall is a good time to see migratory birds.
The refuge is open year-round. In the winter, the prairie trail becomes a snow-shoe trail. Groups can come for snow-shoe tours or families can borrow snow shoes from the refuge office and take the trail.
The Turtle Mountains are another area featured in Wefald's book. Although she's been hiking for 40 years, Wefald said she only recently discovered the half-mile trail to the Butte Saint Paul Historic Site east of Bottineau.
"That's one of the nicest hikes in the book. The view from the top of that hill is really spectacular," she said.
Larry Hagen, park manager at Lake Metigoshe State Park near Bottineau, said hiking has become popular in recent years because of interest in trails by families, exercise enthusiasts and bird watchers. Hikers come year-round, bringing their cross-country skis in the winter.
The park is catering to that interest with the development of a new hiking area on former Boy Scout property.
"It's going to really expand our trail area into a whole new area of the park where a lot of people have never been, where there's tremendous views of Lake Metigoshe," Hagen said. "You go back into the trees and you are by yourself that pristine type of hike experience. The chances of seeing a deer are good. The chances of seeing a moose are occasional."
The state park plans in mid-summer to begin gradual opening of different portions of the new trail area.
Three of the Badlands hikes mentioned in Wefald's book are temporarily closed because of damage from last year's weather. The book lists contact information with each hike so people can check ahead, but Wefald also has hiking updates on her blog at (spectacularndhike.blogspot.com), where she welcomes comments from fellow hikers.
The Oxbow Nature Trail at Upper Souris Wildlife Refuge, included in the book, is open after closing last year due to the flood. Duane Anderson, biological technician at the refuge, said the trail is currently not wheelchair accessible as it has been. The scenery also isn't quite what it was.
"There was a lot of the smaller vegetation and grass that was drowned," he said. "Our refuge was under water for several weeks. It's going to be interesting to see what actually comes back, but it's starting to look better. It's going to take a couple of years to get back to normal."
Not all trails at the refuge were affected by the flood. One that remained unscathed is the Cottonwood Nature Trail that Wefald recommends.
Wefald's book is available at Barnes & Noble in Minot and from some online bookstores. Book contributors were editor Catherine Jelsing of Rugby, graphic designer Lourdes Hawley of Fargo, artist Janet Flom of Moorhead, Minn., and map designer Thomas Marple of Mandan.