Finding Your Entry Point into the Outdoors


ELY, MINN. — Look on any number of maps of this part of northeastern Minnesota and you’ll see dozens of circled red numbers or black asterisks and numbers often next to a red line of varying lengths.

Paddlers who are familiar to the area know what those symbols mean. The numbers represent entry points — read “parking areas” — and the red lines indicate portages — manmade trails that link paddlers and their canoes from their vehicles to water entries — creeks, rivers and lakes.

These entry points serve as jumping off points to a few days or even weeks of adventure into North America’s largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. It’s here where tens of thousands of people come to escape the grind and rat race of daily life and to rest and recuperate, relax and recreate, revive and refocus.

A few entry points allow a paddler to disembark right next to the water, but most require some foot travel over a portage. All portages, however, are not created equal. Some can be short, flat and relatively free of obstacles. In many cases, though, portages can be long — a quarter-mile is normal; a half-mile or more common — and arduous, requiring paddlers to pack their gear and canoes over and through rugged terrain that includes steep inclines, rocks and roots, downed trees, water, mud and frequent clouds of insects.

In short, the red portage lines mean the paddler is going to have to go to some effort and inconvenience to get onto the water and into the wilderness where they can find the lake, campsite, fishing spot or vista he or she seeks.

The question now arises: Do you have any special entry points into the wilderness — read “nature and outdoors” — in your life? If not, could you identify one and visit it sometime soon?

An entry point doesn’t have to be 1 million acres of wilderness. It doesn’t need to be 1,000 or 100 or 10 or even 1. Maybe you already have an entry point that’s as simple as walking out the door and into the backyard where you have a flower or vegetable garden, or both. Or maybe you manage some birdfeeders and birdhouses or raise bees back there. Maybe the entry point is a walk around the block or a trip to a small park where you like to watch, listen, smell and possibly taste the natural world around you.

But maybe the backyard or a neighborhood green space doesn’t do it for you. Maybe you don’t even have a backyard or maybe you need a destination entry point that allows you to unplug and reconnect with the outdoors. Remember the red lines representing the portages? Maybe, in your case, you need to walk or drive or even fly to an entry point to gain access to a setting that brings you the benefits that only nature and the outdoors can provide.

Through more than two decades of living in central Iowa, several areas have served me as entry points into the outdoors and nature. They include Ada Hayden Heritage Park in Ames; McFarland Park, east of Gilbert; Inis Grove and Emma McCarthy Lee parks in Ames; Ledges State Park near Boone; Colo Bog in eastern Story County; and the Skunk River Greenbelt south of Story City. There are, in fact, many others; too many to mention.

What about you? Is there an entry point nearby? Here’s guessing there is, and here’s hoping you’ll use it.

Todd Burras can be reached at


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