Thursday, June 19, 2014

Trail heads past former cranberry bog

Graphic courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
An old cranberry bog awaits day hikers at the Sobieski Flowage Scenic Area in northern Rusk County, Wis.

Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Flambeau River State Forest, the Sobieski Flowage Scenic Area Trail runs about 0.4-miles one-way (0.8-miles total). The majority of it is in Rusk County with the flowage itself in Sawyer County.

To reach the trail from Sawyer County, in Winter head east on County Road W to the state forest then turn south on County Road M. After crossing Skinner Creek, take the first left/east, which is a dirt road that leads to the flowage’s southern shores. Park in the lot along the shoreline then walk the jeep trail to the road on the out-and-back route.

Some maps refer to the man-make lake as Skinner Creek Flowage, but the trail and scenic area itself is named for Ed Sobieski, who in the 1940s converted his dairy farm here to a cranberry operation. By diking North Fork Skinner Creek, he built the flowage in 1948 to ensure a steady water source for the berries.

As the trail heads west, it passes what once were Sobieski’s cranberry bogs, which consist of soft, marshy peat soil. The cranberry plant with its long-running vines prefer such a habitat.

Contrary to popular opinion, cranberries don’t grow underwater or on the water’s surface. Instead, the night before the harvest, growers flood the bogs with about 18 inches of water. During the harvest, reels nicknamed eggbeaters churn through the water, loosening berries from their vines. As cranberries have a small pocket of air within them, they float on the water surface where they can be easily corralled and loaded into trucks. This wet harvesting typically occurs from mid-September until a week or two before Thanksgiving.

The flowage provided Sobieski with the water he needed to flood his bogs each autumn. Today, the ditches leading from the flowage to the bogs remain as blue streams with green grasses rising between them. Hike the trail in June, and you’ll be treated to lily pad blooms on the flowage.

When Sobieski retired in 1973, he sold the land to Wisconsin so it could become part of the state forest. Today, the scenic area includes habitats for songbird, ruffed grouse, and woodcock.

Part of the trail lacks shade, so be sure to wear sunhat and sunscreen.

Read more about day hiking Sawyer County, Wisconsin, in my Day Hiking Trails of Sawyer County guidebook.