Adventure Report: The Currie Loop
The Casey Jones State Trail is the first rails to trails conversion in Minnesota, authorized in 1967. It consists of three main sections, not yet connected to one another and some day it will span over 100 miles from Luverne through Pipestone to Redwood Falls. At this time, there’s eight paved miles and two gravel miles between Pipestone and Woodstock, followed by two miles of natural surface trail. 1.5 miles of natural surface west of Lake Wilson and a 6-mile mile paved loop between Lake Shetek State Park and the nearby community of Currie, MN.
On a recent visit to southern Minnesota, Jen and I had some time on a beautiful fall morning, so we hopped on the bikes to take a spin. The so-called Currie Loop does not have a designated trailhead, but parking is available at Forman Acres County Park just outside Lake Shetek State Park, or End-O-Line Railroad Park and Museum. Another option is to park at the picnic area inside the state park, ride the park road and access the trail at the park office, which is what we did.
Traveling clockwise from the contact station, we first rode up a hill to the state park entrance sign and got a good look at the surrounding area. Harvest season was in full swing and there wasn’t a field anywhere around us that didn’t have farming equipment on it. Combines were chugging along, taking down rows of dried corn stalks and soy beans to the bare ground and disposing of their load into waiting trailers, hitched to semi-trucks.
Just a bit farther down the trail, we stopped and roamed around the grounds of End-O-Line Railroad Park and Museum in Currie. The museum was closed, but the grounds were open and we took a look at the interesting collection of historic railroad artifacts, including a steam engine and many buildings from Murray County’s past. Our steeds stayed hitched up at the historic church meanwhile.
The main attraction is a manual turntable which was used to turn engines around 180 degrees and send them back east. Currie literally was at the end of the line for the Chicago Western Railroad who abandoned the line in 1980. Today, the rusty, crooked tracks disappear into the woods at the edge of the park.
Back in the saddle, we rode the trail over to the Currie Dam. Here, the water flowing over the concrete wall becomes the Des Moines River which snakes across Minnesota and Iowa and joins the Mississippi in its namesake town. The last couple of miles took us through a very scenic section between Smith and Shetek Lakes, past stands of oak and walnut trees and restored prairie, all dressed in their fall best yellows, oranges and browns. It was a good reminder that was it not for people with a passion for conservation, we would assume that the impressive trees have always been there. According to the Lake Shetek State Park webpage, the area was without any trees before settlers arrived.
Just before we got back at the park, the trail took us past the Shetek Monument. The 25-foot concrete obelisk marks the graves of 15 settlers on Lake Shetek who were killed by Dakota warriors during the US-Dakota war of 1862, a conflict in which both sides lost many lives. More about the US-Dakota war.
We arrived back at the picnic area after a good 6-mile loop. There’s lots to do at the park, including miles of hiking trails, the interpretive center, a beach, fishing dock and two campgrounds. It was a long drive back to the Trails secret headquarters, so all we had time for was a lunch at the wonderful picnic area overlooking Lake Shetek. We fired up the gas stove and five minutes later we dined on some hot beef stew. It was a calm and sunny day in early October where summer briefly had the upper hand in the battle of the seasons. It was hot in the sun and cold in the shade and we knew that in a few weeks fall would be winning, just to have to defend its title to winter later. For that moment, however, autumn was never ending. The lake was deserted and the mid-day sun shimmered on the calm waters; the last of the crickets chirped in the dry grass; a curious nuthatch landed on our picnic table looking for morsels. Smoke lazily drifted over from the nearby campground and some lucky human was setting up camp on a Sunday afternoon. We had to pack up and go home.