BRAINERD, Minn. (WCCO) — Whenever there’s a ranking of healthiest states, Minnesota seems to be at or near the top.

Our state has thousands of miles of outdoor trails for walking, running, biking and cross-country skiing. Now, though, you can also do upper body exercises along a path in Brainerd, in what used to be one of the trashiest parts of town.

The Northland Arboretum just completed the first phase of its fitness trail, with four separate stations for stretching, balance and strength training.

Executive Director Mary Corrigan said part of the Arboretum’s mission is to help residents stay healthy and explore nature.

“I just feel that people feel so much better when they’re out working outside, versus inside a gym,” Corrigan said.

Northland Arboretum is a 540-acre conservation area with native woods, grasses and gardens. The natural scenery that visitors now enjoy wasn’t there four decades ago.

In fact, as council member Mary Koep recalls, it was just the opposite.

“This was a landfill at one time,” Koep said. “We called it the dump. It was just an open pit where people could actually just dump things.”

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

In the early 70s, the city covered its landfill with two feet of dirt. A local environmentalist, Rudy Hillig, urged the city to convert the property to an arboretum.

In the decades since, Corrigan said PCA inspectors have found no dangerous levels of methane coming up from the ground, and nature has taken over with new fields of trees and grasses.

“We have the birds and we have butterflies and the trails,” Koep said, “and I think it’s a wonderful place to be.”

The latest feature, the fitness trail, features stainless steel, all-weather equipment, imported from Denmark.

The outdoor equipment from Norwell Outdoor Fitness comes with an interactive feature: an iPhone APP that illustrates the exercises and charts your progress.

“It’ll track your results and total them at the end,” Corrigan said, “and then it’ll calculate how many calories you’ve burned.”

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

For regulars who’ve already enjoyed other activities on the property, it’s one more reason to head outdoors.

LeAnn Plinske of Baxter said she visits the Arboretum about five days a week.

“What more do you need than the birds singing and the leaves rustling in the trees?” she said. “We need the wild spaces. We need places where we can have peace and serenity.”

Northland Arboretum offers yearly memberships of $20, but a one-time visit to the trails is $5 for adults.

So far, there have only been enough donations and grants for four pieces of equipment, but they’re still trying to raise money to get a total of 12 stations.

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