Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Discover famous old dam site on hiking loop

Nevers Dam overlook on River Terrace Loop.
Photo courtesy Minnesota DNR. 

Minnesota trail rambles
through bottomlands forest

Day hikers can learn about the power of dams while enjoying a walk along the St. Croix River on the River Terrace Loop in Minnesota's Wild River State Park.

The 1.5-mile loop and its stem trail circles through a bottomland forest in this popular park. Originally called St. Croix Wild River State Park – and it still appears on various maps that way – it's now just Wild River State Park.

Late summer and early fall mark the best time to hike the loop. During wet years, spring floods and mosquitoes can make the hike difficult.

To reach the trail, from North Branch, Minn., take Minn. Hwy. 95 to County Road 12. Drive County Road 12 to the park entrance, and follow the main park road to a parking lot near the picnic area.

The trailhead begins in the picnic area with a short 0.1-mile connector that heads 120 feet down the bluff into the bottomlands and to the loop. Upon reaching the loop, go right/east.

Old Nevers Dam site
In about 0.2 miles, you’ll reach the St. Croix River and the Old Nevers Dam site. Wooden pilings in midstream are all that remain of the dam, which at one time was among the most important in the Midwest.

During the last half of the 1800s, log jams were a regular occurrence on the St. Croix as lumber cut in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota was floated downstream to saw mills. In 1886 when an estimated l50 million feet of lumber backed up on the river, loggers dynamited the tree trunks to break open the jam.

The solution to the log jams was controlling the river flow through a dam. To that end, in 1890, the Nevers Dam opened, virtually eliminating the backups. For the next 65 years, it held the record as the world’s largest pile-driven dam.

As the lumberjacking days ended, Nevers Dam became a river control point that allowed construction of a hydroelectric power dam in St. Croix Falls, Wis., 11 miles downriver.

Spring floods in 1954 demolished Nevers Dam, however. That May, the high waters undermined the dam and washed several sections away. A wrecking crew removed what remained of the unusable dam in 1955.

Flood-tolerant trees
From the Nevers Dam site, go left/north on the trail, which parallels the river for 0.6 miles. Though wooded, during wet years this can be somewhat of a swampy area. Keep an eye out for ducks, herons and bitterns.

When the trail curves southwest and away from the river, you’ll reach another junction. The intersecting trail accesses the campground atop the bluff via 164 winding steps.

The River Terrace loop goes left/south. Camper cabins are on the bluffs about 140 feet above.

As the bottomland forest sometimes is flooded during spring, inundation-tolerant trees – including silver maple and basswood – flourish here.

In 0.5 miles, the trail reaches another junction; go left/east and then within a few feet at the next intersection, go right/south back onto the connector trail leading to the picnic area and your parking lot.

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