CSS Instructor Runs Superior Hiking Trail
The Superior Hiking Trail is a 310 mile long journey that runs from Otter Lake Road, close to Canada, to Jay Cooke State Park, just south of Duluth. The trail is along the Lake Superior shoreline and can be as treacherous as it is beautiful. This summer, Dignitas instructor and psychology professor Shawna Weaver decided she wanted to run the Superior Hiking Trail. In just ten days.
Due to trail conditions and weather, Weaver was able to complete between 275 and 280 miles in nine days, averaging over a marathon each day. She missed some portions of it, which she had run on her own previously. What would compel someone to want to do such a thing?
“Every year in the Dignitas class I teach, the students do a semester long 40 hour service project,” Weaver explained. “The intention is for them to design it themselves, to find a need in the community that matches something they’re passionate about.”
One of Weaver’s students sparked her crazy idea when they asked what she would do for this project.
“I wanted to combine things I’m really interested in with something to challenge myself, and that I can use to give back to the community,” she said.
Weaver then met with friends and colleagues, and her idea slowly started to come to life.
“We talked about how one way people raise awareness for issues is to do something like this adventure that I wanted to do,” said Weaver. “My goal became to interview people along the way. I ended up interviewing about twenty community leaders on the North Shore who met me on the trail and talked about their involvement with the trail, the area, the state parks, our economy, and our culture.”
She wants to share their stories through her story.
One of these connections Weaver found was Renee Burns, a Masters of Social Work student at St. Scholastica. Burns and Weaver met at St. Scholastica because they had both attended Prescott College in Arizona.
“Somebody mentioned to me that there was a woman in the community who graduated from the same school that we graduated from in Arizona, so I sought her out,” said Burns. “She and I started talking, just over coffee, and we had all these things in common. She told me about the project that she was doing, and I said, ‘How can I be helpful?’”
Renee ended up helping in a number of ways. She had connections along the North Shore to sponsor places to stay along the trail as well as interviews for the project. In addition, she has her wilderness first responder certification and she is a runner herself. She ran with Weaver the first three days, or 100 miles of the journey. “I kind of played trail medic for the first three days because it’s super remote up there. I had a first aid kit and all of the extra stuff. My role kind of developed as the project unfolded. When we were actually running, I was her number one cheerleader and helped her stay safe for the first three days with my first responder background.”
Safety was the main concern. Paul LaJeunesse, an art professor at St. Scholastica also played a role in keeping the run as safe as it could
“I would drop her and whoever was running with her at that time off at the trailheads and meet them at intersections where the roads would cross the trails just to make sure things were safe,” he said. “And then I’d break off and go to the campsite, set the camp up, come back and do some shuttling, then come back and collect firewood, that sort of stuff.”
LaJeunesse was interested in the project because he, too, is new to the Duluth area.
“This was my first year here, so this was a good opportunity to spend some time up in the North Shore woods and those areas. There [were] a lot of beautiful rivers and state parks I wanted to see, so for me it was a chance to explore a little bit. My intention was to make some art, some drawings and paintings, but it ended up being a lot of photographs due to time constraints. There was a little too much going on with the run to just sit and spend time,” LaJeunesse said.
He plans on returning to the North Shore to spend some more time and create some art.
So, what is the next step for Weaver?
“What I hope to do with it,” Weaver said, “is I’m working with two international organizations, one is the Pollination Project and one is Great Lakes Commons. They are supporting me in the effort of creating a website that is a collaborative with several other researchers and community leaders on the North Shore to put all of the information about the North Shore into one place. So that we aren’t just a string of different communities all working on problems in isolation, but we are one community recognizing that we are stronger as an entire North Shore together.”
Weaver said many of the communities along the North Shore were experiencing similar issues and concerns.
“One is our environment and one is our social community development.” she explained. “The North Shore is an area where we struggle economically because we have a small work force and we’ve always used natural resources that tend to produce a boom and bust economy.”
Once those natural resources are gone, the job force disappears as well.
“We’re looking at different ways that the North Shore can become more economically sustainable, and that may include things like tourism and outdoor adventure,” she said. “We don’t want to shut down job creation by never using our natural resources anymore, but we want to do so really responsibly so that we maintain environmental sustainability. The project was all about learning who knows enough about those issues that we can learn how to balance them.”
This project was all about collaboration. Besides bringing the North Shore communities together, “It was cool having all three of us come together and meet,” Burns said. “We formed this relationship in having a connection with the college and the community. We all had a similar passion, but a different passion, be it the arts, the adventure, the education, the sustainability, or the actual physicality of running.” She added, “You can’t just run 30 miles a day in the woods with anyone.”
While each participant had their own favorite part of the trail, Weaver said the Duluth segments were her preference.
“The parts through Duluth are really cool. I would suggest to anyone who wants to experience the trail, you can hop on it within walking distance from Scholastica and do the forty or so miles that are connected in Duluth. They have really cool views; you get to walk right through the city but still be in the middle of the woods. It’s a fun experience.”
Currently, Weaver is working with her partners to put together the website highlighting her journey and the issues community members along the North Shore are facing. For now, the details of her adventure can be found on the “SHT Run” Facebook page. “The primary goal of the project was to see how the interconnections influence each other,” Weaver concluded. “How are they connected in ways that we can be more resilient and responsive to them and solve more than one problem at a time? And how to solve a problem without causing more harm in a different area?”