Monday, October 27, 2014

Midwest trail leads to lake allegedly inhabited by sea monster

Sand Point at Frontenac State Park, Minn.
Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR

Sand Point Trail extends
into Lake Pepin at state park

Day hikers at Minnesota’s Frontenac State Park can take in a great view of Lake Pepin – and maybe glimpse a sea monster while doing so.

Reports of Pepie – as the monster locally has come to be known – date to before pioneer times and have occurred as recently as a couple of years ago. The 1.4-mile round trip Sand Point Trail leads to the lake’s shore while heading through a swampy area perfect for creatures of the deep to hide.

To reach the trailhead, from Red Wing, Minn., take U.S. Hwys. 61 and 63 south. Continue through Frontenac Station, not turning onto County Road 2 for the park’s main entrance. As the main highway curves south, stop at the historical marker on the left/north side of the road; use the parking lot there.

Size of an elephant’
The trail begins on the lot’s north side and heads northeast as crossing County Road 2. A thick, low-lying woods sits between the road and Lake Pepin, a widening in the Mississippi River.

Before pioneers settled this region, local Dakota Indians refused to take birch-bark canoes onto the lake saying that creatures living in the waters would puncture their thin-skinned boats.

Most of the settlers dismissed the Indian stories as superstition. Then, the evening of April 24, 1871, two local residents spotted the monster. “It was the size of an elephant and rhinoceros, and moved through the water with great rapidity,” the Wabasha (Minn.) County Sentinel reported two days later.

Through the years, other sightings followed, primarily by fishermen. Most recently, beachgoers in Lake City, Minn., spotted a large creature swimming in the lake around 10 a.m. on July 9, 2008. Witnesses said the creature was between 30-40 feet long and swam upstream against the current.

Loch Ness connection
A 2007 expedition to the lake failed to find anything, however. Skeptics dismiss Pepie as a large game fish, giant log, optical illusion, or a hoax.

But those with a more open mind say the creature might be a descendant of a plesiosaurus, to which it bears a remarkable resemblance. The same theory is used to explain the Loch Ness monster – whose home, Loch Ness, is almost identical and size and geography to Lake Pepin.

The trail’s endpoint is Sand Point – aka Point Au Sable – a sand spit that extends into and overlooks Lake Pepin. Across the lake is the Wisconsin shoreline and river bluffs with Maiden Rock to the north and Stockholm to the south.

As the trail heads past wetlands, be sure to don and carry bug spray during spring and summer. And bring binoculars, just in case Pepie shows up.

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