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Editorial - Stay sharp this summer: Hit the trail

It happens every summer. Kids get bored and restless. They complain there's nothing to do.

It's more than just mid-summer boredom. It can have lingering consequences. Studies show that if kids don't engage in educational activities during the summer, they suffer "brain drain" or a loss in their ability to learn. In fact, research shows it takes teachers four to six weeks to reteach material that students have forgotten over the summer.

How can you stop the brain drain?

Beyond hitting the books, how about hitting the trail?

Douglas County is fortunate to have a beautiful paved trail system, the Central Lakes Trail, that runs all the way from Melby to Osakis.

In addition to providing good exercise and a chance to enjoy the great outdoors, the trail can serve as a classroom for studying trees, plants, wildlife, insects, wetlands and other facets of nature. Take your children on the trail - walk, bike, Rollerblade or longboard - and see how many different types of trees and flowers you can identify. Stop and listen to birdcalls. See if you can spot a fish from a bridge. Count how many ducks, pelicans, geese and other waterfowl you come across.

Sharpen math skills by keeping track of how much distance you covered on your exploration and how long it took you and then have your child calculate your pace.

There's also lots of local history to soak up along the trail. And the kids won't be the only ones learning. Adults can pick up new insights, too.

Do you know, for example, how Evansville got its name? A kiosk on the trail stop in Evansville explains it. The roots of the town began around 1858 when Evan Evanson, the first mail carrier through the area, chose to rest there on his route that ran between St. Cloud and Fort Abercrombie in North Dakota. In 1859, Evanson built a shanty or stopping place and when J.C. Burbank and Company of St. Paul began running a stage line, his building became the stage station. The station remained opened until the Indian Wars of 1862. Many of the early settlers in the area went to Sauk Centre and St. Cloud until a squad of soldiers arrived and the men returned to attend to their crops. The soldiers stayed until 1866 and the beginnings of the town developed from there, eventually being named Evansville after Mr. Evanson.

Similar historical notes can be found all along the trail. In Osakis, for instance, a sign recalls a 1904 train derailment. 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."

So there are educational sights and intriguing historical insights out there, just waiting to be explored. Hit the trail and learn.