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This is the photo of a 1904 train derailment that happened in Osakis. The photo is featured on the trailside sign recently installed downtown. (Contributed photo)

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Soon enough, people will be biking, running and walking along the Central Lakes Trail, which runs through the heart of Osakis.

There are nice spots along the trail to take a break and rest a spell and now, there's an opportunity to learn a little, too.


Osakis is one of 10 communities along the trail that has been staked with new "You Are Here" signage.

Last November, a new sign was placed near the trailhead in downtown Osakis. The sign welcomes trail users to Osakis, uses a satellite map to show "You Are Here," it shows the route from Osakis to Alexandria and an overview of the entire trail.

According to Erik Anthonisen, acquisition and development specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the signs were paid for through a Federal Trails Recreation Grant and it requires that the sign include interpretive or trail etiquette components.

"We decided to include both," Anthonisen said.

To determine what should be featured on each sign in each community, Anthonisen said he met with the Otter Tail County Historical Society, Douglas County Historical Society and, because the trail is a forgone railroad bed, he included two local railroad history experts, Norm Priebe and Walt Dunlap.

"Norm and Walt shared stories from the Great Northern Railroad days. The folks at the historical societies helped me find additional information and photos. I also had a bunch of help from other community members from the towns. They helped provide additional stories and some great pictures," Anthonisen said.

The historical aspect on the Osakis sign features a train derailment in 1904 in downtown Osakis.

The sign reads: While train wrecks were relatively rare, they did occur and were often news nationwide. Along the Central Lakes Trail Area, wrecks occurred in or near Brandon, Dalton, Melby, Nelson, Osakis and possibly in other locations. The news of a wreck in Melby in 1895 was published as far away as Aspen, Colorado and Salem, Ohio. On September 27, 1904, two trains coming from Montana loaded with cattle crashed in Osakis. Many cattle escaped and some were seen stampeding through town. Note the cow on top of the train engine in the photo.

"Jan Moore sent me photos from the Osakis train wreck and helped fill in some details. A cattle stampeding through Osakis...I couldn't have made up a better story for the Osakis sign," Anthonisen said. "Those stories that seemed to have the most appeal and had enough information were the ones that made it to the signs."

The signs feature "rules for trail use," things like stay on designated trails, keep all pets on leash, warn other trail users when passing by giving an audible signal, pack out all garbage and litter, and other etiquette reminders.

In addition, the detailed maps on the sign show nearby restaurants, restrooms, convenience stores, lodging and distances between towns along the trail.

"As a Central Lakes State Trail user, I want to know how far it is to the next town. Following the trail etiquette piece should make use biking, hiking, running and inline skating a more enjoyable experience for all users," Anthonisen said. The interpretive railroad history component helps satisfy the curiosity that many of us have to learn more about the world around us."

Anthonisen said Douglas County Parks Department helped work on the signage project and installed eight of the 10 signs along the trail.

There are signs in Fergus Falls, Dalton, Ashby, Melby, Evansville, Brandon, Garfield, Alexandria, Nelson and Osakis.

Amy Chaffins
Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.
(320) 763-3133