Friday, March 13, 2015

Minn. trail runs through recovering forest

Trail connecting Soudan Underground Mine and Lake
Vermilion state parks. Photo courtesy of Minn. DNR.

Lake Vermilion S.P. covers
3000 acres near Soudan

Day hikers can learn about bats and mining on Minnesota’s newest state park in Soudan.

Lake Vermilion State Park opened in 2010 after Minnesota purchased land from U.S. Steel. With limited facilities for now, the park’s only marked and official trail is the 2.4-mile looping Alaska Shaft Trail.

Alaska Shaft
The best way to access that trail actually is through the adjacent Soudan Underground Mine State Park. To reach the trailhead, from U.S. Hwy. 169 in Soudan turn north onto County Road 4594 (aka Jasper Street), then right/northwest onto County Road 4598 (aka First Street), and enter the Soudan Underground Mine park. The street becomes Stuntz Bay Road inside the park. At the first intersection, go left/west. A dirt lot is available for vehicles at the park offices. From there, follow the road east, crossing Stuntz Bay Road just north of the intersection.

The stem trail to the loop heads past a geological feature of iron ore, the likes of which attracted miners here during the 1800s. Beyond that is the Alaska Shaft, which, covered by a metal cage, reaches to the 12th level of the expansive mine beneath your feet.

Bat programs frequently are held at the Alaska Shaft. The underground mine is home to around 12,000 mouse-size brown bats. They usually can be seen exiting the shaft at dusk from April through September with April-May and then August-September sporting the most traffic.

Change in the trees
The trail continues east of the shaft, entering Lake Vermilion State Park, where the loop is located. The new start park covers 3000 acres and boasts five miles of shoreline on its namesake.

You may notice that the trees at the trail’s beginning and around the Alaska Shaft are much taller and wider than those in Lake Vermilion park. The state took control of Soudan Underground Mine park in the early 1960s but during the intervening time U.S. Steel logged off the trees on the section that is now Lake Vermilion park. The trees along the loop are much younger.

As the loop reaches its northeast corner, a spur leads to a rise that offers a pretty overlook of the park’s rolling terrain.

Upon completing the loop, retrace your steps on stem trail to the parking lot.

Learn more about nearby day hiking trails in my Day Hiking Trails of Northeast Minnesota guidebook.