Anyone ambling along the Superior Hiking Trail is able to see the world, or at least the North Shore, through Tom Peterson's eyes.
"Tom's insistence on finding the best river crossing, the most satisfying falls or canyon view, the most ancient tree, the coolest cedar grove and the most interesting geological feature is evident in every step of the trail," former trail association President Anne McKinsey recalled in "The Superior Hiking Trail Story."
Now recognized as the "father" of the Superior Hiking Trail, Peterson was hired as its first trail development manager nearly 35 years ago.
"I had my USGS maps and a compass. No GPS back then," he said in a 2018 video recognizing the founders of the trail. "You kind of figure out, by the contours, where it's going to be good."
Between 1986 and 1993, Peterson "figured out" and led construction on 200 miles of trail that would go on to become nationally renowned. Now stretching 310 miles from the Wisconsin border south of Duluth to the Canadian border, the trail is today hiked, backpacked and snowshoed by more than 50,000 people every year.
"I cannot imagine the Superior Hiking Trail without Tom — he provided the vision for so many sections of the trail," said Jo Swanson, trail development director for the Superior Hiking Trail Association. "If you love the Superior Hiking Trail, you owe a great debt of gratitude to Tom."
Peterson died June 22 at his home near Two Harbors. He was 76.
Peterson worked for both the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Superior Hiking Trail Association as the dream of a North Shore hiking trail was becoming a reality. He would later describe his "dream job": "I got paid to walk around in the woods."
"Tom always said, 'The shortest distance between two points is not the hiking trail," recalled Mark Wester, who accompanied Peterson on many expeditions to establish the original route between Two Harbors and Canada. "Skiing rivers to find crossings, scrambling up and down banks — sometimes it took a day or two to go up and explore and realize we have to get people to this spot."
Peterson was born in Minneapolis on March 5, 1945, to Barbara and Allan Peterson. As a regular visitor to the North Shore growing up, he jumped at the chance to teach philosophy at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1972 and lived in the area for the rest of his life with his wife, Sherry.
He was remembered for his aptitude in the woods as well as his attitude.
"He was full of wonder. He was always amazed at what he had done — not so much that he did it, but how beautiful nature was up there," said Rudi Hargesheimer, a former Superior Hiking Trail Association board president and author of the 2020 book "The Superior Hiking Trail Story." "He'd come to meetings with a big smile on his face: 'Last week we made the best part of the trail yet.' "
"He had a poise about him that was calm and thoughtful, and he was well-spoken and a thinker," said Kevin Johnson, the DNR Parks and Trails area supervisor in Two Harbors.
Before his involvement with the Superior Hiking Trail, Peterson helped develop the North Shore State Trail and was later involved in creating the Mesabi Range Trail and the Gitchi-Gami State Trail.
"It seems that everywhere you turn on the North Shore there's something Tom impacted," Swanson said.
Peterson is survived by his wife; his daughter, Jessica; and sisters Sue Lasch and Nancy Peterson. Services will be held 3 p.m. Monday at Cavallin Funeral Home in Two Harbors.
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496