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Inspiration on a walk in the woods leads to Hoyt Lakes prayer trail

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Last fall, Jim Koepke was doing something a lot of Minnesotans like to do in the fall, walking through the woods and connecting with God, in his case on land owned by his parish, Our Lady of Hope in Hoyt Lakes, which is mostly a pine forest, with some of the trees about 60 years old.

Father Kris McKusky blesses and dedicates the new prayer trail in Hoyt Lakes on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross Sept. 14. (Submitted photo)

What is not typical is that he had a sudden inspiration to build a prayer trail there, and then all the pieces started to fall in place. “It’s either a lot of unusual coincidences or I think there’s something spiritual involved,” he said. 

One thing fell into place almost immediately. “It was like I could just see where the trail would go,” he said. It wouldn’t even require cutting any of those beautiful trees. He said he was also inspired to add Stations of the Cross. 

Koepke, who is originally from Hoyt Lakes and now splits time between there and the Twin Cities, said he approached the pastor and the council at the parish and was met with enthusiasm, but when he started to search online for Stations of the Cross, he discovered they were very expensive, often thousands of dollars. 

So he turned to the Holy Spirit, whom he believed had inspired the idea. “If you want me to follow through, you’re going to have to show me what to do,” he prayed. 

He started reaching out to dioceses, first the Diocese of Duluth, where none were available, and then to the Diocese of New Ulm, where he got much more promising news: there was a 100-year-old Stations of the Cross imported from Bavaria that was in storage, and he could simply come and get them. 

“I’ve never been there before,” Koepke said. “They have a gorgeous Cathedral.” 

Koepke said it was up a “dusty old stairway” where the stations had been stored for 35 years, and they were so big he couldn’t get them all at once, so he had to keep going up and down those stairs feeling “a little like Quasimodo.”  

The Stations, he said, are works of real craftmanship and detail, to the point you can even see the toenails of the figures. 

“It was a lot of effort, but it was so worth it!” he said. 

He drove them back to Hoyt Lakes and found a cabinet maker to make display cases so that they could be protected from the elements.

Submitted photo

When it came time to work on the trail, another challenge arose. Koepke, a retired mental health administrator, is a distance runner accustomed to running five marathons a year, and suddenly he found himself unable to walk from the house to the car without being out of breath. His doctor discovered a genetic issue that required immediate heart surgery. 

“I wasn’t going to be able to finish the trail by myself,” he said. 

Instead he had to sit and watch family members do the work. “It was a real good lesson in humility for me,” he said. 

An artist made a sign, and the prayer trail was finally finished this June. Koepke said the feedback has been really good. People go there and walk it or sit and pray for 15 or 20 minutes, just like the former confirmation teacher hoped they would. 

Father Kris McKusky, the parish’s pastor, decided on a fitting day to bless and dedicate the trail: Sept. 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.  

Koepke said the Stations will be taken in during the winters, but while it’s open, it’s easily accessible right from the church parking lot and open to everyone. 

“It’s totally free,” he said. “We don’t even accept donations. Leave your checkbook at home and come and see it.”