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DNR: Get the New Year started with a First Day Hike

ALSO: Grief counselors ready when holidays get too heavy; Judge says slashing prison sentences could create havoc; Baxter council eyes limits on e-cigs; scam calls prevalent.

Creative Commons/Jeff Wilson

The Department of Natural Resources, in a piece published in the Waseca County News, suggests we spend the first day of the New Year getting some exercise. Called First Day Hike, more than 400 guided hikes are offered. In Minnesota, First Day Hikes will be at: Lake Bemidji State Park (Bemidji), 10-11:30 a.m.; Minneopa State Park (Mankato), 10-11:30 a.m.; Scenic State Park (Bigfork), 10 a.m.-noon; Jay Cooke State Park (Carlton), 1-2:30 p.m.; Wild River State Park (Center City), 1-2:30 p.m.; Lake Carlos State Park (Alexandria), 1-3 p.m.; Whitewater State Park (Altura), 1-3 p.m.; Tettegouche State Park (Silver Bay), 1-4 p.m.; and Luce Line State Trail (Vicksburg Lane trailhead, Plymouth), 6-7 p.m. First Day Hikes are free, but a vehicle permit is required.

If the holidays get you bummed out, John Lundy of the Duluth News Tribune writes that area chaplains and grief support counselors will be ready to help those whose pain intersects with the holiday season. “Sadness, dislocation disappointment — people are feeling more acutely some of their issues,” said Tab Baumgartner, director of chaplaincy at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth. Gina Dixon, a psychologist and program manager for Essentia Health Grief Support Services, said for many people, the second holiday without loved ones is very difficult. “The first set of holidays, they kind of floated through in a fog,” Dixon said. “And maybe (they) had lower expectations from other people of their ability to function and maybe more support. Very often it’s the second year when people end up seeking grief counseling or coming into support groups because some of that shock and numbness has worn off.”

An Olmstead County official warns that if prison time is lowered for some low-level drug offenders, the results could be catastrophic. Writing in the Rochester Post Bulletin, Heather Carlson says the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission is considering changing sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of first-degree drug crimes from seven years to four years in prison. The plan is to ease overcrowd prisons. Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem warns that the plan could cause problems in Greater Minnesota because it places low-level drug sellers with drug users. In small towns, he said these small drug sellers can cause serious problems. “The impact of these lower-level crimes in Greater Minnesota is huge,” Ostrem said. Others disagree. Rochester defense attorney Jacob Allen said, “These are people who are addicts who are selling to sustain their own addiction or they’re possessing for their own addiction. These aren’t the people who necessarily need to go to prison — at least not right away. I think it’s fair to give them an opportunity to at least prove themselves in the community,” Allen said.

The Baxter City Council is considering limiting e-cigarettes, writes Renee Richardson in the Brainerd Dispatch. At the council’s most recent meeting, officials considered an ordinance to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes anywhere smoking is prohibited by the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act. They noted that the unregulated e-cigarettes were tested by the Food and Drug Administration and found to contain nicotine and other carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, which is a toxic chemical used in antifreeze. The council set the topic for action on its Jan. 5 agenda for action.

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Dozens of phone owners in the Austin area were scam targets last weekend via calls asking them to pay their IRS debt, according to the Austin Daily Herald. Police Chief Brian Krueger said Mower County Dispatch received dozens of calls from people who received calls claiming the IRS was going to sue them. Krueger reminded people that the IRS does not call people about debt or other related issues. “This is a scam, so do not get caught up in this,” Krueger said.

Going that extra mile, two people are being held after they hauled out a 400-pound safe from a McDonald’s in Thief River Falls. The Duluth News Tribune reports that Brian Allen Torkelson, 24, and Justin Rick Hopper, 25, both of Thief River Falls, are accused of using a stolen vehicle on Dec. 10 to steal a 400-pound safe, which held an estimated $4,000 in cash, from the restaurant.

Albert Lea and Austin schools are going ahead with a plan to combine services to provide better care for special education students. Writing in the Albert Lea Tribune, Sam Wilmes reports that Albert Lea school officials approved the plan Monday night, joining Austin school officials who made their approval earlier in December.  The cooperative would be paid for through a one-time, 2.2 percent increase in the tax levy to pay the lease levy for the Corcoran Center in Austin. Renovations are planned for the building.