Friday, October 18, 2013

Bubbling stream awaits day hikers on loop

Hay Creek, Bjornson Education-Recreation Center
Topo map, Bjornson Education-Recreation Center Loop
Day hikers can enjoy a pleasant walk through woodlands and past a small, spring-fed creek on a looping trail at the Bjornson Education-Recreation Center in west-central Wisconsin.

The 1.7-mile loop actually is a set of interconnecting trails at the 443-acre school forest owned by the School District of the Menomonie Area. A plethora of walking paths and logging trails, which double as cross country ski routes in winter, run through the recreation center.

Any day in summer and weekends during late spring and early autumn marks a good time to visit. Weekdays during the school year can be crowded and noisy as school kids may be on the site for classwork.

To reach the recreation center, from Interstate 94 west of Menomonie, take Exit 32 north on County Road Q. Turn right/east onto 700th Avenue then right/southwest onto 160th Avenue. As 160th Avenue curves sharply south, turn right/southwest onto the recreational center’s main entrance road. Park off the entrance road in front of the gate. Do not drive past the gate, as you may get locked in.

Walk the entrance road into the center, passing a man-made pond along the way. During the 1970s, beavers constructed a natural pond upstream, but their overeagerness caused a great amount of flooding, forcing their removal; to compensate for the lost educational opportunity, the pond and wetlands alongside the entrance road were developed.

Farm building ruins and lean-tos
In about 0.4 miles, you’ll reach the main group area, which includes a shelter, picnic tables, and pit toilets. On the group area’s north side, you’ll notice ruins for what used to be a barn and milk house as well as a side trail that leads to the foundation of an old farmhouse. Through the first half of the 20th century, the recreation center was a working, privately-owned farm.

From the group area, take the Spring Trail south. If standing at the group area’s center and looking west, you’ll notice one trail heads directly west; to its left a trail heads southwest, then to its left going straight south is the Spring Trail. The Spring Trail is largely a grassy, mowed area.

In about 0.2 miles, go on the trail heading directly west. You’ll enter the recreation center’s forested area. Bring along a tree guide and see if you identify the many northern hardwoods along the trail. Among them are ash, basswood, maple, oak, white birch, and yellow birch.

At the next junction, in about 0.07 miles, go right/north. Watch for the lean-tos built on the trail’s right side. Every year, hundreds of elementary and middle school students visit the site to learn about nature, a tradition since the early 1970s when the school district purchased the forest from Ed Bjornson of the Spring Valley Lumber Company. Keep an eye out of for lost mittens.

Towering red pines, gurgling creek
The trail loops back west. At the next junction, in about 0.25 miles, go right/north. You’ll cross two bridges, the first of which goes over a stream feeding Hay Creek and the second of which is Hay Creek. Several strong springs in the surrounding hillsides feed the waterway.

In about 0.07 miles, you’ll reach the next junction, a logging road. Go right/east. Profits from timber sales at the school forest pay for the facility and environmental education in the district. Students also plant trees here and collect acorns for state tree nurseries.

The logging road runs past towering red pines and alongside the ever gurgling Hay Creek, then after about a third of a mile reaches the main group area. From there, follow the entrance road back to your vehicle.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.