Handcrafted walking sticks fashioned by ‘Stickman’ Cliff commemorate trails

Cliff Borgerding concentrates on burning a design onto one of the many dozens of walking sticks he has hand-crafted.

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Cliff Borgerding grew up on a farm near Freeport and then spent many years as an accountant before finding the satisfying activity of wood carving.

After a heart attack in 2001, and following a doctor’s advice to get more exercise, he started walking.

“I found myself picking up walking sticks whenever I went out, and then brought them home,” he said. “My wife, Linda, told me to do something with them or get rid of them.”

Borgerding had always enjoyed woodworking. As a child he used to play with his father’s sickle grinder, — using wood.

“But I never had art classes in school; I always took college-bound classes,” he said.
It has been during the last several years or so as president of the Lake Wobegon Trail Association that the idea for walking sticks evolved.

“It was just the most natural thing to do to promote the trail with the walking sticks,” said Borgerding.

He was on the board of St. John’s University Arboretum for several years and gave winter symposiums on preserving the Avon Hills.

“I made about 30 walking sticks one year to give to each of the presenters at the symposium. I burned an outline of the Abbey, the Arboretum and some of the trails on the sticks,” he said.

Borgerding, who has been nicknamed “Stickman” by customers, then sold the sticks through a former coffee shop in Avon and he has been making them ever since. He has displayed them at various annual events such as the Celebration of the Arts in Avon, the Caramel Roll Ride on the Lake Wobegon Trail and the Green Fair Folk Festival in Little Falls.

In 2008, he was part of a wood show in Avon through Avon Area Arts and in 2008 and 2009 he was a vendor at a wood show in St. Cloud. In 2012, he had his own show at Tischler Wood Products in Avon.

Borgerding has made 300 to 400 walking sticks and canes at this point. He will fashion a specific stick at the request of a customer.

His signature design is the Lake Wobegon Trail with mile markers, towns, lakes, rivers and historical information. But Borgerding has made sticks with family tree information, landmarks and other trails on them too. It takes at least an hour to burn a trail onto a stick.

Each stick has its own identification number, with the year, the month and the number of sticks made that month.

Borgerding really enjoys cleaning the wood, peeling off the bark. “I want to uncover what’s underneath,” he said.

The “spirit of the wood” is captured in spirit faces.

At the end of 2011, Borgerding realized he needed some small items to sell too so he fashioned some letter openers and spirit faces.

Borgerding took a class in spirit faces in St. Cloud and bought a couple books about it. But he said he needs to practice, practice, practice.

“Woodcarvers talk about the ‘spirit of the wood;’ most of my spirit faces look like mountain men of rendezvous days,” he said. “They are a good way to make use of leftovers. The letter openers use the end pieces of walking sticks and canes, and the spirit faces are usually cottonwood bark.”

“I wish I’d started doing this years ago; it’s really a decompression tool,” he said. “If I’d been doing this I probably would not have had the heart attack.”

A portion of the sales of Borgerding’s handcrafted items go to the Lake Wobegon Trail.

For more information, go to the Lake Wobegon Trail Web site’s store at www.lakewobegontrail.com or call Borgerding at (320) 293-9364 or send
e-mail to [email protected]