Lake Bronson Adventure Race
By Jan Lasar
The Pink Ladies bravely battled the Abominable Snowwomen and Organized Chaos went neck to neck with the Bronson Brawlers, but in the end it was the Dog-on Dirty Shirts who took home the coveted trophy: A toy moose on a slice of pinewood with glitter writing. ”Getting a little lost is part of the fun,” said Pastor Frank Johnson to the crowd of about thirty people who had gathered in the far northwestern corner of Minnesota for the Lake Bronson Adventure Race on a cool and very windy day in May.
Johnson, a Twin Cities transplant, now pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in nearby Hallock, was the organizer of this event. He’s a runner, biker and triathlete and tried to come up with ways to have more active events at the park in his new backyard. “I like the concept of an adventure race, because it fits the area more than a triathlon. It’s something anyone can do,” he said. The concept was easy: Teams competed to complete a list of tasks in the fastest time and under three hours to place. Not so easy was finding your way around the park with a compass, map and GPS.
There was a lot of pre-race commotion in front of the park visitor center that morning. Adventure Racers, some dressed in running gear, some wearing jeans and t-shirts with their team names over bulky coats, milled around, chatted, laughed and jumped in place to keep warm. Bushes and grasses were just beginning to show signs of green. At 9:30 am Frank Johnson started the large digital race clock and ten teams of three ran or biked off in different directions to be swallowed by the woods. The sound of the wind was the backdrop to their whoops and hollers as they made their way to their first assignment.
They had three hours to bike, run or walk from station to station and were given the coordinates for the next mission only after completing one. Johnson designed each task to show off some of the history, geology and ecology of Lake Bronson State Park and combined it with elements of orienteering and geocaching by having racers study interpretive signs on the Aspen Parklands Trail, pump water from Lake Bronson with a hand pump, find geocaches with a GPS unit or read the headstones at the Pioneer Cemetery for clues.
Catching pingpong balls dropped from the iconic WPA water and observation tower was thrown in just for fun-not an easy task in the windy conditions that day. “I come to the park each year before the race to explore and find new things that people have never done here. Showing off what it has to offer is the impetus behind the route planning,” he said.
It was so windy that instead of canoeing across Lake Bronson to the Pioneer Cemetery at the southern end of the park, racers were told to bike around the lake to gather their clues. The racers didn’t mind biking in the wind. They were out to have a good time, just like Johnson intended for his second annual event, which he said took “a couple of months of intensive planning”. He’s the creator and organizer of the Lake Bronson Adventure Race and even made the trophies, but credits its success to his staff of 20 church and community volunteers and park ranger Diane Peterson.
“I was a little nervous to approach the DNR with the idea of an adventure race, because it was a new concept for them, but the park staff was excited to have this event out here and they jumped right on board with it,” he said.
Park Ranger Jack Pellinen said ‘It’s good to see so many people come out to the park and use it to be active this time of year”, because Lake Bronson State Park, just about 20 miles from Canada and North Dakota, sees few visitors before May. The Dog-on Dirty Shirts finished at 2:09:16 and took home the moose trophy that day, but church volunteer Liz LaPlant from nearby Hallock saw more benefits than swag: “It gets kids off their phones and away from electronics,” she said.