Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Observe effect of 1800s logging on day hike

Grove of quaking aspen

Birch, aspens grow where
white pine once dominated

Some 120 years ago, loggers swept through northeast Minnesota, as they fed a young nation’s growing need for lumber to build homes, make furniture, and lay rail beds. Hikers can see how that era altered the landscape on the Redhorse Creek Northern Loop in the Chengwatana State Forest.

Islands of upland boreal forest in a sea of brushland and marshes forms this state forest along the St. Croix River in Pine County. The Chengwatana offers primitive camping sites and has designated trails for off-road and all-terrain vehicles.

To reach the state forest, from Interstate 35, take the Beroun exit onto County Road 14. After 6.25 miles, turn south onto County Road 10/Evergreen Road. In a little more than three miles when County Road 10 and Evergreen Road split, turn left/southeast onto the gravel road (staying on Evergreen Road) then go left/east onto Chengwatana Forest Road. Watch for signs that make finding your way easy.

Where the Chengwatana Forest Road itself forks, go right/southeast. After crossing a stream, you’ll come to a parking lot on the road’s left side.

'White-pine town'
For the trailhead, follow the road you came in on south to a gate. On the other side of the gate, the trail is a stem leading to three stacked loops. Redhorse Creek is on the stem’s left.

At the first trail junction, you’ve reached the northernmost of the stacked loops. Go left/northeast so you do the trail clockwise. The trail is largely forested with a few spots that open to meadows.

The state forest’s name is an anglicized version of the Ojibwe word zhingwaadena, which means white-pine town. During the 1800s, eastern white pine was the dominant tree here. Then the area was heavily logged with the pine trunks floated down the St. Croix River to sawmills in Stillwater. The loop you’re on comes near the St. Croix after about a mile of walking.

At the next fork, go right. If you go left, you can extend the trail by either a little more than a mile by adding the middle stacked loop or by a little more than two miles through combining the middle and southern loop; the last combination also will take you alongside the river.

Today, paper birch and bigtooth and quaking aspen have largely replaced the white pine. The old granddaddy of the forest still can be found here, though, along with balsam fir, burr oak, jack pine, red oak, red pine, tamarack and white spruce.

Upon reaching the next trail junction, continue on your trail (that is, head west). If you accidentally turn, you’ll end up on a segment of the trail shared by the middle and southern loops.

The state forest still is logged today, though it’s controlled. The loop passes through a few areas in which companies have timber permits.

Excellent birdwatching
At the next fork, go right/north. You’re now solely on the northernmost loops and curving toward the trailhead.

Keep a watch out for wildlife. You’re likely to spot the footprints of, if not see, white-tailed deer, bear, beaver, mink, muskrat, ruffed grouse and turkey in the forest.

A number of other birds also can be seen here, thanks to the marshes and rivers. Bald eagles, northern harriers, osprey, sandhill cranes, and warblers all call the Chengwatana home. In spring and autumn, migrating waterfowl can be spotted as well.

The next junction is the stem you took to enter the loop. Go left onto the stem back to the parking lot.

Read more about day hiking the scenic riverway in my guidebook Hittin’ the Trail: Day Hiking the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.