Vinland National Center’s Winning Winter Walkabout

Vinland National Center, Loretto, Minnesota, uses their Winter Walkabout snowshoe day as a fun and successful model for non-profits raising awareness and funds. But what has Norway got to do with it?

As a gift to the United States on its 1976 Bicentennial celebration, Norway made a grand gesture and gift to us all by donating the funds for the Vinland National Center and its objective to benefit disabled people, allowing full lives. Their work is something on the level of extraordinary with the success for their patients the ultimate score card for that measurement.

For example, 71 percent of their alumni report returning to work or a work-related program upon completion of the Vinland curriculum. And, 100 percent of their current residents have maintained their sobriety and are employed, serve as volunteers or are physically unable to work. Brain injuries make up 69 percent of those served by Vinland, along with 35 percent involving mental illness (includes duplicates) along with learning, developmental, physical, visual, hearing and speech difficulties.

The facility, housed on a beautiful hilltop overlooking Lake Independence, comprises 168 acres of rolling land and forests — or what we would call a perfect area for snowshoeing. Colleen Larson, Operations Manager, pointed out the near cliff leading down to the beach chalet from the main lodge, a path meandering to the side for a nice stroll. My mind was frozen, though, on how to make that cliff part of an advanced snowshoe course for an even bigger challenge for those who enjoy running on these little frozen particles called snow. That idea is under discussion.

My host, Amy Miller, the staff organizer of the Second Annual Walkabout, had wonderful questions about the wisdom of going straight down a steep hill and then back up. At a loss to explain this, the only comment coming to mind was that snowshoe racers often act now and think later . . . or at least that is the model I am most familiar.

The Walkabout has proven to be a popular family event including wooden snowshoes from Minneapolis-based wooden snowshoe artisans, Country Way. Snowshoe for a Cause is how Vinland expresses their day, and their model works well.

Just entering the event is a smaller number to raise, but to receive their cool shirt with an entry, one can raise $50 or more ($85 for a family). This method offers the opportunity to receive pledges, which will quickly go over these minimums, and their separate website for the Walkabout has all the bells and whistles where one can go directly and make the donation, making it easy to both the solicitor and those who donate.  Does this work? A resounding yes is the reply, as Vinland raised more than $8,000.

Participants have a scintillating February day, snow-dancing with live Scandinavian music by the group Skalmusik, a roaring bonfire by the frozen lakeside, the hot lunch as the reward for traipsing over the  3 km course happily served in the heated party tent, containing enough activity to fill any three ring circus.

For example, the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota displayed a “CraneStorm” folding station where a paper crane “flies” out of paper. This is an ancient art practice, widely accepted as a international symbol of peace, utilized by the association to signify well-wishing while visually providing an understanding of the numbers who suffer such injuries.

All of the above occupies only a few of Vinland’s expansive acreage so initial planning is underway to consider a snowshoe race for the more frenzied snowshoers in the region, those who feel a good challenging race allows for more eating afterward. What a concept!

Karin Holt heads the fund raising mission leading to an enlarged, modernized, and fresh complex ready for an ever-expanding role. Trustfully events such as the ideas springing from the Winter Walkabout will rally enlarged participation as Vinland achieves its enthusiastic goal.

In the meantime, one cannot visit the Vinland National Center without enjoying the magnetism of enthusiasm and friendliness of mission the staff represents, led by Executive Director, Mary Roehl. The Sons of Norway organization is a strong supporter, too, and you will see the Norwegian Ski Patrol along with numerous others celebrated at the website.

That snowshoeing adds this need to its purpose is just one of the many wonders resulting from making way while sporting ancient appliances on one’s feet.

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About Phillip Gary Smith

Phillip Gary Smith, Senior Editor, published "The 300-Mile Man" about Roberto Marron's historic doubling of the Tuscobia 150 mile endurance snow run. He publishes "iHarmonizing Competition" on various forms of competition, including drag racing, his favorite motorsport. Earlier, he wrote "HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life" as a manual for life with chapters such as Winning by Losing, Can God Pay Your Visa Bill?, and a young classic story, The Year I Met a Christmas Angel. His book, "Ultra Superior," is the first written on the Superior Trail ultra-distance events. He mixes writing with his profession--the venture capital world--a dying art. He is a creator of CUBE Speakers, a group espousing themes in "HARMONIZING: Keys" in a unique way. Currently, he has two books in the works. Write to him at, or find him on Twitter or Facebook @iHarmonizing.