North Dakota native a true 'trail' blazer
Growing up in southeast North Dakota not 30 minutes from the Sheyenne National Grasslands, Scott Kudelka had ample opportunity to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible.
"I loved to go hiking," he said. "My dad was great at stopping at secret spots nobody else knew of."
Kudelka's passion for the outdoors has led him on a journey through several states, including North Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. It also has led to environmentally-based careers with the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department and now the Water Resources Center at Minnesota State University in Mankato.
But, his most recent achievement came directly from a deep-held appreciation for his home state's outdoor opportunities.
"North Dakota is unique," he said.
Kudelka is the author of "North Dakota's Best Hiking Trails" (MSRP $12.95, Adventure Publications, Inc.), a comprehensive guide perfect for even the most seasoned path pounder.
"I'm hoping it gets people going," he said. "I'd like them to just pick it up and head out."
Kudelka's motivation for writing the book came from his passion for North Dakota's outdoors and wildlife, but also for what he witnessed - or rather, didn't witness - while outside.
North Dakota's natural splendor, it seems, is nearly an untapped resource.
"It's amazing how few people don't come out, even on holidays," he said. "The state has done a great job of maintaining its own trail systems, but also cities and counties.
"Even the Maah Daah Hey Trail is nationally known, but you can get out and not see another soul."
The guide features color-coded sections based on different regions: the Red River Valley, Prairie Pothole Region, Missouri River Plateau and Badlands. Each section, adorned with the author's own colored photography, begins with a general introduction about the region and table of contents. From there, readers can choose a trail and find out details such as terrain, facilities, cost and directions. There also are rudimentary maps that give a basic overview of a given path.
Kudelka does an efficient job of featuring as many trails as possible, while still keeping the guide small enough to tote around in a backpack all day. It boasts nationally recognized corridors like the Lewis and Clark and aforementioned Maah Daah Hey, but also features more obscure locations, such as the McClucky Canal and New Rockford Canal in east-central North Dakota. Even the urban bike paths of the Fargo-Moorhead Trail System and Grand Forks Greenway are listed and adequately discussed.
"It's for people inside and outside of the state," he said. "People that live in North Dakota, especially the eastern side, have a tendency to go to Minnesota instead." This book shows what opportunities lay right outside their back doors.
Though the paperback may not be as detailed as some diehard trekkers would like - you won't find GPS coordinates or detailed, topographic maps - it gives enough information for a person to be able to quickly get out and start stomping dust with minimal supplies.
And for anyone uncertain of which trail to choose, a "Scott's Pick" for each listing will point a reader in the direction of a can't-miss opportunity.
Kudelka, 46, originally from Forman, N.D. (approximately 30 miles south of Lisbon), now lives in New Ulm, Minn., with his wife, Angie. Though he doesn't plan on moving back anytime soon, Kudelka does return to the state of his birth at least four to five times a year to catch up with friends and family.
Kudelka, who also is the author of a 10-volume series on North Dakota's state parks, has plans to continue his writing efforts. In the works is another guide that taps into one of his passions.
"I would like to write a book on paddling North Dakota," he said. "I've started it, but it's just a matter of getting time to finish."
Kudelka's career as a water assessment specialist at MSUM takes up much of his time, but it's a labor of love, he said.
Until his paddling guide is complete, readers will have to stick to shore with a copy of "North Dakota's Best Hiking Trails" close by.
"I think North Dakota is a great place to live, and has some great places to go and enjoy," Kudelka said. "Just pick up the book and go."