Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hike through Superior Coastal Plain on Bayfield, Wis., area trail

The Great Gray Owl will migrate from
Canada's boreal forests to the Pike's Creek
area when winter food is lean. Photo
courtesy of  Wisconsin DNR.

Jerry Jolly Hiking Trail segment
heads through aspen-birch forest

Day hikers can explore Wisconsin’s northernmost ecosystem on a segment of the Jerry Jolly Hiking Trail near Bayfield.

The Jerry Jolly is part of the Pike’s Creek and Mt. Ashwabay Trail Network, a set of ski trails winding through a thousand acres of Bayfield County Forest and the Nourse Sugarbush Natural Area. The segment described here runs 1.1-miles round trip.

To reach the trailhead, take Wis. Hwy. 13 south from Bayfield, turning right/west onto County Road J. In short order, the county highway becomes Star Route Road. After passing the Old Corny Road intersection, look for signs pointing out the parking lot for the Jerry Jolly trails on the right/south.

Climatic influences
From the lot, head south on the stem trail for 0.31 miles. Along the way, the trail crosses a tributary to Pike’s Creek.

The trails sit in the Superior Coastal Plain ecosystem, which includes the northern portions of Bayfield, Douglas, Ashland and Iron counties as well as the Apostle Islands. While much of the Bayfield Peninsula consists of pine barrens – areas of sandy soil that support mainly pine and scrub oak – Lake Superior greatly influences the coastal plain’s climate. Winters are warmer, summers are cooler, and more rain and snow falls here than inland.

Because of that, a good mix of aspen birch and other hardwoods reside alongside pines and fir-spruce more common to the boreal forests farther north.

Another factor influencing the Pike’s Creek climate is the Bayfield Peninsula’s hilliness, which contrasts with the flatness of the pine barrens to the southwest. Evidence of the hilly terrain comes on the Jerry Jolly Trial just after the third trail junction, when the stem gains elevation for about 0.12 miles. At the fifth junction, take the trail heading left/northeast, and for the next 0.06 miles the trail descends the hill.

One-time boreal forest
Before pioneers settled the area, the Superior Coastal Plain largely supported a boreal forest. Marten, fisher, beaver, caribou and gray wolf all thrived there. Once the old growth trees were cut, however, aspen-birch took over, and so the wildlife also changed. Today, white-tailed deer and smaller mammals, such as squirrel, chipmunks, rabbits and voles dominate the wooded landscape.

At the next junction, the trail reaches Jerry's Meadow Loop. Go right/east as wrapping around a small meadow for 0.25 miles.

Meadows such as this are extremely rare in the coastal plain. Often these grassy areas are abandoned farmland pastures and fields.

At the next junction, the trail leaves the meadow for the stem you came in on. Go right/north on the stem for 0.25 miles.

Snow birds
Despite the large-scale disappearance of the coastal plain’s boreal forest, birds from those Canadian woodlands migrate here some winters when food is not as plentiful in their northern homes. Skiers on the trail will hear or see owls that wouldn’t be spotted during summer.

Upon reaching the next trail junction, for a little variety go right/northeast onto a small 0.12-mile loop. The loop returns to the stem trail farther ahead; at that junction, continue right/north back to the parking lot.

The trail is named for Jerry J. Jolly, a long-time Bayfield area outdoorsman. In 2007, the Jerry Jolly Hiking Trail was dedicated in his honor. Because of his middle initial, sometimes maps and brochures refer to the trail as the “Jerry Jay Jolly Trail.”

One last note: By midsummer, parts of the trail can sport high grass, so you may need to wear long pants when hiking it.

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