Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spot carnivorous plants on Bear Trail

Carnivorous plants and glacial lakes await hikers at the Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary in Washburn County, Wis.

Perhaps the best way to see the sanctuary’s wide variety of ecosystems is the Bear Trail, a 2.7-mile loop to which this recommended hike adds a half-mile.Owned by the National Audubon Society, the nonprofit Friends of Hunt Hill Audubon Sanctuary operates the facility, where they offer several quality educational programs.

Trails are open from dusk to dawn. Unlike state parks, entry is free for hiking. If able, though, help fill the donation boxes on the information kiosks. Late June marks a good time to visit because of the blooming orchids, but days can get humid and insect repellent is suggested.

To reach the sanctuary, from U.S. Hwy. 53 between Sarona/Shell Lake and Spooner take County Road B east. Turn right/south on County Road M then turn left/northwest onto Audubon Road. In about a mile, turn right/north on Hunt Hill Road. Go right/east at first intersection and park at the cluster of buildings.

Continue walking east on the road that you parked your vehicle. At the end is the Vole Trail loop; go left on the loop. To the south is a prairie where wildflowers abound in summer. You’ll find the fairly even trail remains flat the rest of the way.

Sphagnum bog
Next you’ll pass a sphagnum bog that borders Upper and Lower Twin Lakes. Unlike swamps, sphagnum bogs don’t stink because of the water’s high acidity.

In about a quarter of a mile, will come to the Bog Boardwalk, a 0.1-mile loop that takes you into the wetlands where you can see two carnivorous plants – the pitcher and the sundew. Such plants usually can be found in bogs and rock outcroppings, where the soil is nutrient poor, and make up the difference by eating insects.

A number of plants live in the sphagnum bog; most notably, in late June showy orchids bloom. Other plants you’ll find here include the arethusa, grass pink, pink lady’s slipper, rose pogonia, sphagnum moss, and tamarack.

Continuing on the Vole Trail, you’ll parallel Lower Twin Lake. From here on out, the trail is heavily forested with mixed hardwoods and pines, providing pleasant shade on hot days.

The Twin Lakes formed some 10,000 years ago when a retreating glacier’s chunk broke off. As sediment deposited around the melting ice, the lakes formed. Upper Twin Lake reaches an impressive depth of 53 feet.

Upon reaching Heron Point, the trail turns south. At the T-intersection, go left/northeast onto Bear Trail. You’ll cross an old WCC footbridge over a beaver pond.

Watch for 240 birds
The trail then curves past Lower Twin Lake’s southern-most edge and another bog. As you turn northeast, a small quarter mile loop – the Log Road Trail – comes off and rejoins Bear Trail. This loop can be skipped.

As nearing Reed Lake, the trail curves northwest. Keep an eye out for osprey; a platform for the hunting bird sits on opposite shore.

If a bird watcher, Hunt Hill is the place to be. Up to 240 species of birds have been spotted here. They include bald eagles, bluebirds, bobolinks, chickadees, the common loon, the Eastern meadowlark, the great egret, the green-backed heron, pheasant, the pileated woodpecker, the red owl, the red-shouldered hawk, the rose-breasted grosbeak, ruffed grouse, the sandhill crane, tree swallows, the veery, warblers, wild turkey, wood ducks, and wrens.

Leaving Reed Lake, you’ll pass a bog between it and Big Devil’s Lake. The trail then curves back toward Upper Twin Lake. The rise of land in the middle of the wetlands next to Lower Twin Lake is Osprey Isle, where there’s another osprey platform.

Mammals and footbridge
The trail then jags in the opposite direction toward Big Devil’s Lake. The 0.1-mile Big Devil’s Lake Trail loops off the main route for a close up of the waterbody and also can be skipped.

Common Northwoods mammals are likely to be seen on the Bear Trail. Whitetail deer, raccoons, squirrels and chipmunks abound. There’s a bear’s den nearby. Watch the trees for bite marks and girdling, a sign of porcupines.

Following the Big Devil’s Lake shoreline for a while, the trail soon reaches Nordskog Footbridge at Wet Crossing. Take the new footbridge over a channel that connects Big Devil’s Lake to Upper Twin Lake; before the bridge, hikers had to wade through the knee-deep stream.

The trail then skirts another bog next to Upper Twin Lake until coming to the Francis Andrews Trail. Go left onto the Francis Andrews back to the main cluster of buildings and your vehicle.

Learn nearby trails in Day Hiking Trails of Washburn County.