Monday, September 29, 2014

Trail heads through disappearing hemlock

Backwater channel on the northern tip of Brunet Island.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Map, Jean Brunet Nature Trail, courtesy of WI DNR.

Route runs on island
in Wisconsin state park

Day hikers can experience a river island full of giant trees on the Jean Brunet Nature Trail in western Wisconsin.

The 1.5-mile round trip trail sits in Brunet Island State Park. The park’s heart and its developed sections mostly sit on an island at the confluence of Chippewa and Fisher rivers. Of the route described here, the self-guided nature trail makes up a little more than half of the walk.

To reach the park, from Cornell, Wis., go west on Wis. Hwy. 64/ Bridge Street. Turn right/north on Park Road, which leads to the park entrance. Follow the park road over the river and onto the island. Turn at the first left onto the one-way road and park at the boat landing.

From the boat landing, take Pine Trail west, crossing the park road. You’ll walk through the southern edge of the state’s North Central Forest landscape, which in large part is synonymous with the Wisconsin Northwoods. Here Northern hardwoods grow atop sediment left by glaciers at the end of the last ice age.

Upon coming to the Y in the trail, go right/northwest, continuing on Pine Trail.

Whitetail deer and wildlife
You’ll likely see whitetail deer or signs of them along the way. The deer are ubiquitous on the island and have radically altered the landscape by feeding on young hemlocks trees that once filled the terrain. The decimation of hemlocks and other native species likely means that red pine and spruce will cover the island in years to come. Efforts are underway by park officials, however, to protect and rejuvenate native species.

After the trail crosses the park road, you’ll come to another Y. Go left/north on it; you’re now a third of the way through the walk and officially on the Jean Brunet Nature Trail – though you’re not exactly following trail from its official starting point, which is near the bridge connecting the island to the mainland.

Deer aren’t the only wildlife on the island. Chipmunks, fox, porcupine, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, and woodchucks also call the island home while beaver, otter, mink and muskrat can be seen in the surrounding river channels.

Birds also reside on the islands, especially during spring and fall migrations. Year around, eagles and osprey usually can spotted flying overhead while at night owls can be heard hooting. A healthy-sized population of grouse live in the island’s brush.

Old conifers
Even if you don’t spot any wildlife, you’re certain to see gigantic hemlocks growing along the nature trail. Most of these trees are extremely old, survivors from a day when predators were around to control the deer population.

The trail quickly comes to the river shore and loops about the island’s northern edge. Watch for great blue herons that sometimes race in the backwaters.

The park and trail is named for Jean Brunet, who came to the United States from France in the early 1800s. In 1828, he moved to what is now Chippewa Falls and then shortly thereafter to what is now the Cornell area, where he established a trading post, operated a ferry service, and built a dam. Northern States Power Company gave the island to the state in 1936, and it became a park four years later.

The loop forms more of a triangle than a circle with its bottom leg paralleling park road. Once you’ve completed the loop, retrace your steps on the Pine Trail back to the parking lot.

A 500-foot segment of the trail is handicap accessible with limited parking at the trailhead near the main bridge.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.