The planned trail is designed to give present-day canoeists and kayakers an understanding of area's history, provide outdoor recreation and protect the natural environment.

 Minnesota's history isn't complete without the stories of water travelers who portaged their canoes by carrying them overland between bodies of water.

The Crow Wing County Board has approved development of a Portage Lake Trail, a modern version of the portage and water-based trail American Indians used as a route from the Mississippi River to Lake Mille Lacs.

The planned trail is designed to give present-day canoeists and kayakers an understanding of area's history, provide outdoor recreation and protect the natural environment, the Brainerd Dispatch reported (

"The long-range goal is to connect up to five miles of water travel and portages from the Mississippi River to Mahnomen and Turner lakes," the county reported. "This water trail and portage route is a locally historic travel route used by Native Americans and trappers over 300 years ago to travel by water from the Mississippi River to Mille Lacs Lake."

Jack McAllister of Riverton is credited with bringing the trail proposal to the county's trail plan committee. Bryan Pike, county natural resources manager, said McAllister wanted to recreate the route used by Native Americans.

On a hot Tuesday afternoon, McAllister was on the trail clearing brush.

"It's a beautiful day to be out," the 86-year-old said.

McAllister ran across references to the trail from a survey document when he bought his Riverton property in 1999 and researched the trail, ultimately compiling information for a booklet. He said the trail was probably important for the local American Indian villages, including one on June Lake as they traveled to Long Prairie in the fall to hunt buffalo and elk and return to the woods in the spring.

"It is the only portage that links the Mississippi to the (Cuyuna Range State) Recreation Area and it's just about forgotten to history," McAllister said, noting it would have been lost to development. While all-terrain vehicles and bike trails get a lot of support, the portage trail has been more of an effort by one.

"If you don't keep on it, it gets forgotten again," McAllister said. "Bryan Pike has been so good to help with this. He's been such a key factor in getting this going."

According to the trail development plan, the existing Little Rabbit Lake public access could be used along with a smaller parking area, which could be developed off Iverson Road in Irondale Township "to serve users between Little Rabbit Lake to the west and Portage Lake to the east."

Plans include the potential for a non-portage hiking trail that could be 500 feet long along a lightly used existing trail. That path could be improved to give trail users a scenic overlook, the county reported.

Through the county's plan, phase one could include 19 acres of county managed public land and 450 acres of public water ways extending into the Cuyuna Country State Recreational Area by Crosby.

"One portage of 1,900 lineal feet is to be developed on county managed public land," the county reported. "The portage passes through a mature hardwood forest. This is the longest portage and is the first link to get the Portage Lake Trail started."

The long-range plan includes future phases, creating a route from Portage Lake to June Lane and others.

"The public will be allowed greater access into hard-to-reach lakes through the development of upland portages," the county reported. "Trail use opportunities include portages for canoeists and kayakers, fishing, hiking, birding, snowshoeing and non-groomed cross-country skiing. Mountain biking and recreational motorized use will not be an allowed or be a designated activity."

Development of phase one involves 2.1 miles with the potential to have 5-6 miles with future phases.

Commissioner Doug Houge, who represents the area, said this trail project along with other silent sports such as mountain biking is a benefit to the entire county by enticing tourists to stay another day to enjoy the area.

"My ultimate dream would be they'd finish this trail all the way to Highway 6," McAllister said. That route would bring travelers back to the Mississippi River.

"It would make a loop and my ultimate dream is someday they could have a race. They could easily complete it in one day. It's a long ways off. I don't know if I'll see it but I hope they will do it."