Sunday, March 3, 2013

Trail teaches Northwoods’ logging history

Sign at trailhead

Chequamegon N.F. hike
loops glacial lake 

Hikers can learn about the history of Northwoods logging while enjoying excellent water views on the Black Lake Trail in Ashland and Sawyer counties, Wisconsin.

The Chequamegon (pronounced SHO-WAH-MA-GON) National Forest sprawls across 858,400 acres in Ashland, Bayfield, Sawyer, Price, Taylor and Vilas counties. Most of Black Lake is in Ashland County – though to get there you’ll spend most of your time driving through Sawyer County.

Anytime spring through autumn is a good time to hike Black Lake but be sure to bring mosquito and bug spray if going in summer.

Original forest cut down
To reach Black Lake, from Hayward take County Road B east for about 23 miles. Turn left/north onto Barker Lake Road (County Road W goes right/south). Upon entering the national forest, Barker Lake Road becomes Forest Road 174. You will a need a permit to park your vehicle in the national forest, but there’s no entry fee.

After about 10 miles, turn right onto Forest Road 172, also known as Black Lake Road. Just past Mud Lake, turn left/north onto Forest Road 173, aka N. Black Lake Road. You’ll soon come to the south end of Black Lake; once there, turn right/east onto Forest Road 1668. Park at the campground, which is at the lake’s midpoint on its eastern shore.

To find the trailhead, look west in the parking lot for the trail sign. Follow the four-mile loop clockwise (go left/south) so that the trail’s nine interpretive signs appear in order. You may want to pick up a brochure that explains the area’s logging history.

White pine grew around the lake when loggers arrived in the 1880s. During the next 30 years, they cleared the region of it, floating the logs down Fishtrap Creek and the Chippewa River to sawmills in Chippewa Falls. From there, it was rafted to the Mississippi River all the way to St. Louis. During the 1910s to mid-1920s, hemlock and Northern hardwoods were logged.

Glacial remains formed lake
Today, primarily birch, red pine, and spruce trees surround the 129-acre lake, which always appears clear and placid.

Thank a glacier for the brilliant blue waters. The lake sits where an enormous block of melting ice was left when the glacier retreated at the end of the last ice age. Today, the lake hosts largemouth bass, northern and muskie pike, and walleye. Elk, fox, whitetail deer and loon inhabit the shorelines.

At the campground, hikers can find water at hand pumps, toilets, and a grassy swimming beach. Dogs and other pets are allowed on the trail but must be on leashes at all times.

Read more about day hiking Sawyer County, Wisconsin, in my Day Hiking Trails of Sawyer County guidebook.