Much has been written about the benefits of exercise and being outdoors to beat the blues. According to a recent report from the American Psychological Association, “There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well¬being.”
The good news is that urban nature is a totally acceptable stand in. Twin Citians needn’t feel compelled to own a cabin or make excursions to Minnesota’s vast northern wilderness to enjoy the benefits of the great outdoors.
But what happens when the Polar Vortex is at our door?
Those who live here in the “True North” know that the expression, “Winter is Coming,” didn’t originate with the epic Game of Thrones television series. In fact, Minnesotans surely wrote many chapters in the book on wintering.
Urban denizens take on December through March in style, often embracing winter sports bedecked in Lycra, layers, long johns, fleece, down and wool, on skis, skates, sleds, snowshoes, and sneaks, defying the elements to log miles on abundant city trails and parks.
But sometimes, icy paths, below zero temps, and Arctic blasts find many desiring ways to get steps in without the alfresco Olympic heroics.
Here’s a way to multiply your winter fun: It is well-documented that enjoying cultural activity also contributes greatly to our personal and collective well-being. So, combining outdoor exercise with an artistic twist provides a wellness big bang!
Let me introduce you to one of my favorite metro area outdoor adventures: trekking the University of Minnesota’s East and West Bank campuses. Throughout the seasons, I wander the many pathways of this urban treasure, not only charting my 10,000 steps, but experiencing museum quality art, as well.
Best of all, this exploration is free and open to the public. And it’s perfect to do with family or friends. The campuses are easy to get to from anywhere in the metro area and boast multiple public parking and transportation options with the Green Line offering convenient stops on both campuses.
I’m fortunate to live in a high-rise condo building adjacent to the West Bank, and have made a three-to-four-mile walking loop a regular part of my exercise program. From my back door, which adjoins Bluff Street Park, I cross the convenient Dinkytown Greenway Pedestrian/Cycling Bridge to explore the East Bank, completing my route by crossing back over the iconic, covered Washington Avenue Bridge. Both bridges offer amazing views of the Mississippi River high above the limestone bluffs.
Join me for a little tour.
Beginning at Bluff Street Park, cross the Dinkytown bridge, turning right at the steep hill by the back of by the Education Sciences Building. Here you encounter the “Garden of Iron Mirrors” installation by Andrea Stanislav. This arty rock outcropping consists of giant native taconite geodes, sliced in two, some highly polished, others sporting shiny stainless-steel plates. The work creates an “intersection between art, science, and history” and nature. These behemoth rocks “reflect” the surrounding building, the wooded riparian steep bank, the beholder, and the very core of Minnesota’s geology – taconite. It’s a fun place to pose for selfies in the cleverly polished rock mirrors – when they’re not snow-covered! [Photo 1]
At the top of the hill, cross East River Road to take the bucolic pathway between Burton, Elliot, Scott, and Wulling Halls. These buildings are architecturally interesting, and coupled with the stunning ancient oak trees, comprise a magical part of this tour. [Photo 2]
Emerging from this nestled path near the side of Northrop Auditorium, cross Pleasant St. SE, then scoot between Johnson Hall and Walter Library (a marvel of art lies inside). With the front of Northrop on the left, turn right past the photogenic buildings of the quad. Great photo ops here!
At Scholar’s Walk, turn left, strolling a short block. Outside the Mechanical Engineering Building rises the “Platonic figure“ by local favorite, Andrew Leicester. This installation is a soaring homage to the great Renaissance artist-engineer Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing “Vitruvian Man.” [Photo 3]
Continuing east is the enchanting, semi-covered arcade of Scholar’s Walk, a corridor with depictions, drawings, diagrams and descriptions of famous University intellectuals and their works, etched and sandwiched behind lit glass. [Photo 4]
Continuing along Scholar’s Walk, cross Church Street (the Graduate Hotel sits on the opposite side). A little way on, outside the Physics and Nanotechnology Building, are the mesmerizing sculptures, constructed of stainless steel and granite entitled “Spannungfeld,” by German artist, Julian Voss-Andreae. Spannungfeld means, “tension field,” which implyies “a dynamic tension, often between polar opposites.”
This exciting work consists of two 10-foot-tall figures in a basic kneeling pose, a male and a female, facing each other. “The two figures represent nature’s omnipresent pairs of opposites. These dualities are a fundamental facet of nature and are found in Western science as well as in Eastern traditions. They are critical to the emergence of new levels of meaning in science, and, in the case of the two human genders, critical to the emergence of life. Like the positive and negative electric charge in physics or the yin-yang in Chinese philosophy, neither woman nor man can exist without the other.”
Standing to the side of each figure, you perceive a solid mass, but move directly in front of each, and the artworks seem to disappear as you behold the buildings and landscaping behind each, a masterful optical illusion. The effect is marvelous. [Photo 5]
Heading south towards Washington Ave., make a right, where outside of Amundson Hall sits Stuart Nielsen’s, “The Crucible,” of cast bronze and stainless steel. Celebrating the beauty and strength of natural materials. This piece “was inspired by a 40-foot diameter geodesic globe of the world that was erected on Northrop Plaza in May 1993 with the help of 184 schools, 11,535 elementary students, and over 250 Institute of Technology alumni mentors – a technical, organizational, and inspirational triumph. [Photo 6]
These are but a few of the marvels along this route of world class architecture and sculptures. Not only can you get brisk exercise, but the many coffee shops and cafes that dot Washington Ave. provide respite. Heading towards the Washington Avenue Bridge, the colonial style Coffman Union building, next to the Weisman Art Museum (WAM), is open to the public with a lower level featuring food kiosks and the fantastic bookstore with a wonderful gift selection.
Speaking of gifts, when WAM reopens, its gift shop rivals that of any major museum.
Did you know that through WAM, you can book a guided tour of the public art on the campus?
Since its establishment in 1988, the Public Art on Campus Program has become an integral part of the campus environment. As I’ve partly described here, each piece of art has its own history and ties to campus life and academics. Public Art on Campus Tours last one hour and cover about 1.5-2 miles can be scheduled for groups of 3-15. Check the website for more information.
From Frogtown, to Longfellow, to Southwest – all roads easily lead to this urban excursion where art and exercise exist in splendid harmony. Maybe I’ll see on the trail!
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