by Michelle Kelly, Aquatic Education Specialist
Crow River Trail Guards, Inc. is a self-funded private youth organization started in 1992 by Paynesville, MN resident Tom Koshiol. The original intention of building a local trail system to promote environmental awareness through positive outdoor exposure evolved into a program that now serves an average of 50 youth each season, and also provides a wholesome service to the community.
Since 1992, the Crow River Trail Guards has been building and maintaining a park along the North Fork of the Crow River on 12 acres of city-owned land within the city limits of Paynesville. Long neglected and misused, the site is being restored as the Crow River Nature Park. Trail Guard members, ages 8 to 19, work at the park every Saturday morning, April through October, ending each work session with a group noon lunch. Work points are earned to be redeemed on “Outdoor Adventure Rewards,” a series of exciting outdoor activities designed for personal growth in a nature setting. These trips are provided at no cost to the participating youths, making them available to virtually any kid willing to earn his or her points at the park.
The “Outdoor Adventure Rewards” points can be redeemed towards a 5-day summer BWCA Wilderness trip that impacts kids in life-changing ways. Or, points can be redeemed for the annual whitewater rafting trip near Carlton, MN, which is always an exciting and challenging adventure that opens a door to another unforgettable outdoor experience for many young Trail Guards. Or, they can attend the annual canoe and kayak Picnic Cruise.
To cap off the summer’s Nature Park work activities and outdoor adventures, Trail Guards can redeem points to attend the Fall Fishing Day in September. This rain or shine event is often facilitated by the Minnesota DNR MinnAqua program. A fun Saturday morning of angling aquatic education activities from the MinnAqua Fishing: Get in the Habitat! Leaders Guide and catch and release fishing by Trail Guards of all ages is followed by the traditional group meal back at the Nature Park. Trail Guards like to eat! In addition to the food, nourishing bonding time is provided as the group comes together after working and/or playing together.
“This past Saturday morning (Sept. 20, 2008) was another one of those at Nature Park that just didn’t have to end,” reported Tom Koshiol, founder of the Crow River Trail Guards. “The weather was perfect, we had a great program for some great kids, and the fish were biting.”
The youth learn all about fish characteristics, species, and families, and have a great knot tying demonstration that is easy to follow and do. Then they load a bus from the Nature Park and head to the five-mile bridge, where Trail Guards kids lead the way into a very successful morning of pan fishing. Sunfish, plenty of crappies, and perch are caught by the youth, with some catching enough to lose count. All fish caught are promptly released to be caught another day.
Thanks, for this past year's event, goes to MinnAqua and the other adult fishing experts and fish line detanglers, and to a great group of kids who help make this annual fishing day a great success. And thanks to the Trail Guards for picking up every last scrap of trash and litter under both ends of the bridge before headings back to the park for lunch.
The 11th Crow River Trail Guards Fall Fishing Day was funded by a generous donation from the Minnesota Anglers and Dark House Association.
It all grew out of the State of Minnesota “Clean The River” program. The City of Paynesville participated in this program during the late 80’s and early 90’s, and when Tom Koshiol took over, he proposed to the city to begin a trail system along the North Fork of the Crow River, which runs along the north edge of town. The city owned a 12-acre parcel of that river bottom area, and that was to be the trail head.
In the spring of 1992, volunteers began clearing trails, and a stairway and footbridge were constructed with funds solicited from local service organizations. Kids seemed naturally drawn to the area, and to the ongoing activities, so Tom decided to put them to work. They were asked to be trail guides, and guide folks along the new trails. Tom said they really needed ‘trail guards’ to guard the new trails from vandals and troublemakers.
The Trail Guards was really born then and there. A local business offered to provide T-shirts, and soon a growing number of kids began to meet at the new “nature park” to work under Tom’s direction.
Now, after many years, they are a non-profit incorporated private youth group with a proud legacy of hundreds of young participants. About 50 kids are involved annually, 30 or so on a pretty regular basis. Paynesville kids (and now young adults, too) are personally invested in this special place, and Nature Park experiences virtually no vandalism, in sharp contrast to the other parks and playgrounds in the area.