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Hitting trails and empowering women with She Ascends
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If you like the idea of a women-only group with the mission to "Strengthen bodies. Feed minds. Calm souls," you can't go wrong with She Ascends.

The Minnesota-based hiking and wellness nonprofit organization was first established in 2019 in Stearns County. From there, chapters were launched across the state including in McLeod and Meeker counties earlier this year. 

Jamie Broll of Hutchinson is the McLeod County chapter leader. She is part of several Minnesota hiking groups on Facebook when she learned of She Ascends. Broll liked that the organization brought women together who love nature, the outdoors and is based on wellness.

“It's not just about hiking,” she said. “It's for all levels, even for people who go for walks. It's very inclusive. It's geared toward all types of women.”

Broll and her husband, Steven, are avid hikers, but she was looking for an opportunity to connect with other women who enjoy hiking. While She Ascends had chapters in a number of Minnesota counties, there wasn't anything in McLeod County. She also liked the idea of starting something new in this area that hadn't been done before.

One of the advantages Broll said of being part of a statewide organization is that marketing is in place and its a nonprofit organization. So far, the McLeod County chapter has three official members and at least 10 women who have signed up for hikes. It also has more than 50 women who have joined the McLeod County private Facebook group. 

"We've had a lot of interest," said Noelle Meyer, chapter leader for She Ascends Meeker County. "Our Facebook group is about 70 members, with eight to 10 regular people who come on the hikes. We're always looking for more women age 18 or older."

The best way to find out about local She Ascends events is to follow its Facebook page: She Ascends (McLeod County) and/or She Ascends (Meeker County). 


Meyer credited Broll, a coworker, for introducing her to She Ascends.

"She told me about her interest in this hiking group," Meyer said. "It got me interested too. We set up a Zoom meeting with the founder and the regional leader and we went from there."

Meyer said she connected with the She Ascends core values, which aim to connect women of all ages to each other, nature and to themselves so they can live happier and healthier lives. There's no comparisons, no competition and no judgment — only empowerment to ascend.

Meyer stepped up to launch the Meeker County chapter because "Meeker County doesn't have any groups like this," she said. "It's a great opportunity to help our community grow and for women to get out and meet new friends and share similar interests with them."

The two chapters conducted their first hike in January and since then have continued to meet monthly. In addition to scheduled events, Meyer said there are pop-up hikes, which are spur-of-the-moment events, which are announced on the chapters' Facebook pages.

"You only hike for about an hour, so it doesn't take up your whole night," she said.

On Saturday, McLeod, Meeker, Stearns and Morrison chapters are hosting their quarterly spring event: Find your HIKE(her) Within 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Glacial Lakes State Park, which is 30 miles south of Alexandria. Activities range from a 3-mile hike to lunch at Rolling Forks Vineyards in Glenwood. For more information, visit hikehoppers.org/she-ascends.html.

While chapters are organized by county with local activities, the state organization is looking beyond its borders and talking about hosting hiking trips outside of Minnesota, as well as internationally. 

Like Broll, Meyer has always enjoyed hiking. The two women share a love of being outdoors, exercise and the support of women who share the same interests.

"I love hiking, going into the mountains," Meyer said. "I've been in Australia and New Zealand hiking. I'd like it so we can switch it up with different activities such as kayaking with hiking. We haven't done that yet, but that's the goal in the future to do some kind of event."

As a newlywed and newcomer to Litchfield, Meyer appreciates the camaraderie of kindred souls the group offers.

"Everyone is so welcoming and friendly," she said. "This group let's me meet a lot of people really fast and I feel comfortable to call Litchfield home.

For now, both women are looking to grow their chapters. 

"People are thinking about it," Broll said. "We're new and we're getting the word out. There's more than a dozen chapters and it keeps growing."

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Half a century of safe sledding with Bill Arndt
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When Bill Arndt was in his early 30s, it was the heyday of snowmobiling. 

"Sleds were coming out like crazy," he said. "At one time there were 73 manufacturers of snowmobiles. People bought into it. They were fairly cheap at the time, from $550 to $800 a sled. Now you put another zero on that, plus (more)."

Arndt, who is now 85 years old, was among the early adopters, starting with a Sno-Jet before adding other models to his collection. 

"Winter activities were not too much at the time," he said. "Snowmobiling seemed fun. Every evening you'd go out for a ride. Down by the river was tremendous to drive, from Hutch to Cedar Mills."

Arndt's appreciation of the hobby quickly led him to step into the role of an advocate. He helped start a local club — the Hutchinson Drift Riders — and later became regional director of Minnesota United Snowmobilers. When he became a state safety director, it was a continuation of work he began in 1969 and made official in 1971, when he was certified with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as a safety instructor.

This past month, conservation officer Zach Larson honored Arndt with a reward for 50 years of service teaching others to stay safe while exploring nature, racing and traveling on a sled. 

"I'm not alone," Arndt was quick to point out. "We've had many (instructors) over the years. Some are retired, some passed on. But there are a couple of us who just keep on going."

They've taught more than 5,000 students how to safely operate a snowmobile, and to slow down, enjoy the ride and pay attention.

Though the club is not active these days, Arndt said, The Hutchinson Drift Riders were among the first in the state. They kept busy offering classes locally and helping with others elsewhere. The club's proficiency also put it in the perfect position to help neighbors and local law enforcement. 

"One of the things the snowmobile brought on is you could get out in the storms and help people," Arndt said. 

Arndt recalled the 1975 Super Bowl Blizzard, which killed 58 people and dumped more than 2 feet of snow in the Midwest. Riders spent two days rescuing people and even helped fight a house fire when conventional vehicles couldn't reach the site.

Meanwhile, Arndt was among snowmobilers across the state who promoted the expansion of trails. Minnesota now has more than 22,000 miles of snowmobile trails, with many open to other purposes as well. A sled can drive on trails from Albert Lea to International Falls.

In McLeod County, the Crow River Sno Pro's maintain 160 miles of trail. Arndt also offered his time to help with oval track snowmobile racing in the five-state area. He helped officiate the St. Paul-to-Winnipeg race during the St. Paul Winter Carnival, and when that was dropped he officiated an independent race from Thunder Bay to St. Paul.

"It was a lot of excitement," he said. "You'd have up to 500 sleds racing from one location to another."

The Hutchinson Drift Riders used to host a local race at the McLeod County Fairgrounds when they were located near the current 3M site.

"We were the first oval race to have an ice track in the state of Minnesota," Arndt said. "I'd seen how it was done in Michigan. We came back here and us guys worked all night long putting ice down, a thousand gallons at a time. We had 6 inches of ice and it really made racing more interesting." 

When Gov. Arne Carlson called on snowmobilers to put an end to a high rate of deaths, Arndt was among those across the state who heard him.

"We organized, got clubs to organize to slow people down," Arndt said. "That's part of the creed of snowmobile instructors, to promote safety. To teach ... you've got to regulate yourself."

After more than 50 years with the hobby, Arndt doesn't ride as much as he used to, but it's still his sport, he says. He made the ride along the river to Cedar Mills this year and cherishes the opportunity to watch wildlife. On a northern Minnesota farm, he has private trails he loves to ride.

"It's a wonderful way of going through the woods," he said.

He has stories of students and riders not only from Minnesota, but other countries. In his days helping with races, he met riders from Finland, Norway and Russia. Minnesota certificates held by snowmobilers Arndt has taught were earned by residents of Asia, South American and Europe.

"It's exchange students, people working here at 3M," Arndt said. "We trained them, got them a certificate. I even had one who became an instructor in Sweden."

He's been a part of group trips across Minnesota, in Michigan and the Black Hills.

"I've got 13 trips to the Yellowstone area," he said. "I've taken many young people. Yellowstone is a fantastic park to see in the winter time. I was lucky enough to have a group of kids with us when we snowmobiled in the Grand Teton National Park. That was a rare occasion.

"There has sometimes been a lot of good with this (hobby)," he added.

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Hutchinson City Council votes down mask resolution
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In a split vote April 27, Hutchinson City Council declined a resolution requiring all council members wear masks at council functions.

The resolution failed by a 3-2 vote, with Council Members Chad Czmowski and Mary Christensen voting in favor, while Council Members Dave Sebesta and Brandon Begnaud, and Mayor Gary Forcier, opposed the resolution.

According to Czmowski, the goal of the resolution was to emphasize that council members must be wearing masks or attending council functions virtually until Gov. Tim Walz’s mask mandate ends.

Under a June 5, 2020, executive order from Gov. Tim Walz, government entities were required to adopt a COVID-19 preparedness plan. Hutchinson city’s plan was created by City Administrator Matt Jaunich and members of the city’s human resources department. Within that plan is a policy that states “all employees, customers and visitors are required to wear a face covering while within city buildings,” City Administrator Matt Jaunich told a reporter.

He confirmed council members are considered visitors.

Begnaud said, “I personally don’t find (the resolution) necessary, especially if the preparedness plan that is already in place for the city already states and requires this stuff. I just don’t think it’s ... necessary.”

Not mentioned during the April 27 discussion was a formal complaint submitted to the city by former City Council Member John Lofdahl. It alleges Begnaud violated city policy by not wearing a mask while attending an April 19 Sustainability Board meeting, and Sebesta did the same by not wearing a mask while attending an April 20 Planning Commission meeting. The two councilmen declined to comment regarding the complaint.

Forcier said he makes certain to wear a mask when in contact with others but doesn’t feel a resolution is necessary.

At an April 13 meeting, council members voted on whether or not to end the practice of conducting their meetings virtually and return to in-person meetings. Jaunich reiterated the city mask policy during that conversation, and in the end the council voted 3-2 to continue holding meetings virtually until the mask mandate is lifted. Sebesta and Begnaud were the two nay votes.

The resolution offered April 27 states more than 565,000 Minnesotans have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 7,000 have died. Those numbers seem to agree with state data available Monday morning, which showed 580,340 Minnesotans have been infected since the pandemic began, and 7,163 have died. Sebesta took issue with the use of those numbers.

“If you look at the real stats — those are big stats and I wish death on no one from that perspective — but if you look at the number of 565,000 compared to 5.6 million (residents) we have in the state of Minnesota, that’s 0.1089 percent,” he said.

Finalizing the equation shows it is actually 10.89% of Minnesotans who have been infected with COVID-19, and also 0.125% of Minnesotans who have died, or about 1.2% of those who have been infected.

“To me those numbers mean a whole lot more when you have a 97.5% of recovery,” Sebesta said. “Typically, large numbers seem to scare people and I’m not all in favor of that. So if you want to look at large numbers ... last year there was over 600,000 deaths due to heart disease, over 600,000 that were due to cancer, and overall there’s going to be 2.6 million across the United States that are going to perish due to one shape (or) form.”

The numbers Sebesta cited appear to be nationwide figures. According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent data from 2018, there were 8,553 deaths due to heart disease in Minnesota. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that in Minnesota there were 10,042 cancer deaths in 2019.

“Cancer is not given to another person, neither is heart disease,” Christensen said in response to Sebesta’s comment. “It’s not something that’s transmitted through the air.”

Christensen also acknowledged everyone is “COVID tired.”

“We are all tired of wearing a mask and trying to be the best we can,” she said. “We want to protect others.”

Begnaud said he believes the council should not be in the business of enforcing or requiring “anything of anyone,” and that it should move on and continue working together despite disagreement regarding masks.

“As far as protecting people, I 100% agree,” Begnaud said. “But I don’t think we’re going to be changing anyone’s minds or opinions regarding this. I do think that we as a City Council need to set a good example for the residents and demonstrate overall respect and understanding.”