It may have been established in the 1968 as a way to promote the unique and natural traits of west central Minnesota, but the beauty of the Glacial Rige Trail was really established far before that. “The glaciers came through and really made their mark on this area,” said Larry Kittelson of Starbuck, board member of the Glacial Ridge Development Association.         Kittelson was one of the first members of the GRDA. He was joined by Joe Gandrud, Oliver Hoplin and Marvin Nelson. Together they mapped out the trail and put together a management plan for a state grant. The  grant paid for several signs posted along the route. Kittelson got involved in the GRDA again about 10 years ago, when he was elected as Pope County commissioner. He has remained an active member since. “This is a beautiful, beautiful trail,” said Kittelson. “There are more gravel roads on this trail than most, but if you have the time and the patience, it can be a beautiful ride.” Back in 1968, when a group of local leaders met to come up with a plan to gather support for a trail, they envisioned a trail that used the glacier-carved topography in west central Minnesota as their guide. The proposed trail would promote the natural and historic assets of the area, a new concept in this part of the state.
Before long, the Glacial Ridge Development Association (GRDA) was formed. Later that year, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a statute officially establishing the trail, designating the route and approving its logo. It was a 190-mile roadway in Kandiyohi, Pope and Swift counties. The trail expanded in 1972 to include Douglas County and Stearns County and grew again in 2002. This latest addition connected the trail with Kensington Runestone Park and Lake Carlos State Park, located just north of Alexandria. The trail is now 245 miles long and includes five counties. There is no beginning to the trail, and no end. It is designed to lead you wherever you want to be led. “You can gear your exploration to your interests, such as birding, which is included in the Scenic Byway’s Brochure ‘On the Trail of a Glacier’” said Sara Stadtherr, executive director of Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality and GRDA board member. “It doesn’t have to be something you do all in one trip. Even if you just have an hour to kill, you can still experience it.”   The GRT is accented by lakes, streams, woodlands and prairies. It is speckled with paths, bike trails, golf course, resorts and local attractions and historical sites. It also brings visitors to Lake Carlos, Glacial Lakes, Monson Lake and Sibley State Parks and four Nature Conservancy areas — Moe Woods, Leif Mountains, Ordway Prairie and Shepberry Fen. “This trail is unique because it doesn’t go from point A to point B like most trails do,” said Dean Schmidt, WesMin Resource Conservation and Development Coordinator and GRDA board member. “It circles, figure eights and loops around the area. You can see old cabins, Runestone scenery, lakes, woods, prairies, wildflowers and so much more.” Some of the larger towns represented along the trail include Alexandria, Carlos, Kensington, Glenwood, Starbuck, Sunburg, New London, Spicer and Willmar. The GRDA is constantly looking for ways to improve the trail and new improvements are coming down the road soon. The GRDA plans to use a recently awarded grant for $86,000 to erect new historical and informational signs. “These signs will be tied to the trail, so when people want to see something scenic or historical or geological they can read them along the way,” said Schmidt. The new signs are expected to be designed by the end of the year. The trails will have some unique visitors this month. On Sept. 24-26, the Glacial Ridge Model T Tour will take place along the GRT. It is their third annual tour. The vintage cars will start at Sauk Centre and make their way around the 250-mile trip tour before returning to Sauk Centre. Stops along the way include Carlos Creek Winery, Alexandria, Starbuck, Swift Falls, Willmar, the Terrace Mill and Glenwood. Check your local papers for times and dates of these stops. For more information about the Glacial Ridge Model T Tour, call Ed Wahlof at 320-894-6663.