Saturday, May 18, 2013

Follow pioneers on Swedish Immigrant Trail

During 1800s, rail line helped settle Minnesota interior

Day hikers can follow some of the same footpaths and rail lines that the region’s first Swedish immigrants used to settle Minnesota’s Chisago County on the Swedish Immigrant Trail.

A work in progress, plans call for constructing a 22-mile trail running roughly east-west across the county, linking Taylors Falls, Shafer, Center City, Lindstrom, Chisago City and Wyoming, ultimately meeting the Sunrise Prairie Trail. Sections already have been completed west of Shafer, between Center City and eastern Lindstrom, and from western Lindstrom to Chisago City.

Shafer Segment
During the late 1800s, many Swedish immigrants took the ferry across the St. Croix River and then footpaths to their destinations. A spur off the St. Paul-Duluth rail route to Wyoming opened during 1880, helping speed the immigration inland. Today, Lindstrom rightly proclaims itself “America’s Little Sweden” (Chisago City meanwhile appropriately calls itself the “Gateway to the Lakes,” as Chisago County is the border area between the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and the Minnesota Northwoods).

Perhaps the best of the trail’s completed portions is the Shafer Segment, which runs roughly west of the hamlet through wooded areas and past bucolic landscapes. Park on the street in downtown Shafer, off of Redwing Avenue near 303rd Street.

The trailhead is near 303rd and heads for about two miles east of Redwing. Look for the white signs with the trail logo in the blue and yellow colors of Sweden’s flag.

A wide, paved trail, part of the trail follows the historic railroad route, which was abandoned in 1948. Along the way, you’ll pass a pasture for a herd of privately-owned American bison.

More trail coming
Birch trees dominate in some sections, but the trail is mainly lined by mixed hardwoods that leave the path and its grass shoulders covered in an array of colorful leaves during autumn.

This demonstration segment opened in October 2007. A joint effort of the Chisago County Parks Department and the Chisago County Parks and Trails Foundation, the trail is slowly being put together as grant money is garnered, right-of-ways are negotiated, and land purchases made.

As of this posting, efforts focus on connecting the Shafer Segment to Taylors Falls in the east.

Other great trails near Lindstrom-Chisago City-Shafer include:
• Deer Creek Loop – You can hike a segment of the historic Point Douglas to Superior Military Road (aka the Old Military Road) on this three-mile loop in Wild River State Park north of Lindstrom. Access the loop via a 0.5-mile trail from the Visitor Center for a four-mile round trip.
• Ojiketa Regional Park walking trails – Several short walking trails ramble across Ojiketa Regional Park in Chisago City. Located along Green Lake, it’s the county’s newest (and now the city’s largest) park.

Read more about day hiking Northeast Minnesota in my Headin’ to the Cabin: Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.