Coming Home to Hartley Park: Family, Work, and Fun

Ross Perko

We told our realtor that we wanted a house with either a view of the Lake or one with a porch on which I could place my dirty trail running shoes, as well as lean my bike against, directly off the trail.

Hartley Park won. We can drive to the Lake any day.

Run. Bike. Repeat.

I loved Hartley in college and medical school, however, I used it more for running than biking as the trails, much like my wife, were out of my league.  After being away from the city for nearly 10 years, I was stunned on my first trail run by how Hartley had changed. The bike trails are now like superhighways with their banked curves and reduced roots, inspiring me to take up mountain biking again, and I also fell in love with winter fat tire biking.

Hartley Park is just feet from my house, and we are lucky enough to have two entrances on either side of the neighborhood. There is a perfect 2-mile route from doorstep to doorstep that is great for a winter walk or a quick burn.

From my house, if I go right, I enter the trails after a quick hop over Tischer Creek and head up the Guardrail Trail and into a beautiful forest climb. For me, the Guardrail used to be something only the best mountain bikers could cover given its technical terrain and elevation changes. While still challenging, now I can usually stay on my bike during the loop.

When running in the park, I have lapses where I temporarily forget that I am right in the middle of town. I sometimes count the run based on how many deer I have chased up rather than miles covered.

Happy Trails

The people experiencing Hartley are such a wonderful snapshot of our city. The neon clad runner with headphones (not me), the elder statesman with his trekking poles, wool socks and boots with red laces, and the mother wearing her baby and sandals with no socks while covering effortlessly a very technical portion of the Superior Hiking Trail while her other children lead the way. And, the dogs; the happy dogs.

Sometimes, after a fat tire bike ride, I wonder what is more tired, my quads or the muscles of my face responsible for smiling. I have yet to see someone on a fat bike having a bad day.

Husband. Father. Doctor.

My goal is to be a husband and a father first, then a doctor. My family is always number one, and living in Duluth allows me to keep them a priority. I am able to have a work-life balance that allows me to have a professional role at my job, and then leave the office, be home within minutes, go for a walk with the family, and later put our children to bed.

Expanding Horizons

I have never been the type of outdoorsperson who craves being outside as growing up my idea of camping was being in a cabin with the windows open. However, the more time we spend outside, in Hartley or going on “adventure walks,” the more I may end up one day with a canoe on my shoulders trekking into the land of no cell signal.

Living in a city like Duluth, with all of its visual majesty and adventure, allows for the opportunities to maximize what I had always hoped to experience from life --- family, work and fun.

--- Dr. Ross Perko is a pediatric hematology-oncologist at Essentia Health.

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