Sunday, May 24, 2015

Numerous trails found in nature preserve

Rudbeckia on prairie at Belwin Conservancy.
Photo courtesy of Belwin Conservancy.

at Belwin

Several quality day hiking trails pass through a variety of ecosystems at the Belwin Conservancy on the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area’s east side.

Charged in part with protecting land in the St. Croix Valley area from development, the conservancy stretches across 1300 acres near Afton, Minn. The nature preserve, though owned by a private organization, is open to the public.

To reach its main sites – Bell Oak Savanna and Valley Creek – from Interstate 94, head south on Minn. Hwy. 21/Stagecoach Trail (Note that if coming from the east, you’ll want to exit onto the wayside and then take a short connector road from its west side to Hwy. 21.). After passing Indian Trail South, turn left/east onto the conservancy’s entry road. At the park’s headquarters, go left/north; park where the road ends at the nature center.

Trails that can be accessed from there (going roughly east to west and then north to south) include:
Kettlekamp Prairie TrailThe 0.75-mile trail loops through part of the largest grasslands at Belwin. An observation tower at the trailhead offers a great view of the St. Croix River.
• Red Pine Trail – The 0.12-mile loop through a red pine forest can be picked up at the nature center. Also known as Norway Pine, the majestic and sturdy evergreen that is the trail’s namesake is Minnesota’s state tree.
• Tower to Tower Trail – Starting at the observation tower next to the nature center, the 1.4-miles round trip trail goes through prairie and forest to the Treetop Tower. Its opening section rambles through part of the Kettlekamp Prairie.
• Bell’s Fen Trail – Heading south from the observation tower, the first segment of this 1.7-mile round trip shares part of the Kettlekamp Prairie Trail. Upon veering south on its own route, it passes a woodland pond and loops through the amoebic-shaped Bell’s Fen.
• Valley Creek Trail – The 1.2-mile round trip heads south to an overlook of Valley Creek. Take the Red Pine trail south of the nature center to reach the trailhead.
• White Pine Trail – A 1.6-mile round trip hike runs through white pines and part of the Postage Stamp Prairie. Spur trails lead to an archeological site and the Treetop Tower. It shares a trailhead with the Valley Creek Trail.
• Dry Prairie Trail – A 0.75-mile loop heads through and around Goat Prairie as well as adjoining woodland. A sour trail leads to an observatory at the prairie’s north end. Reaching the loop requires taking part of either the Red Pine or the White Pine trails.
• Bulrush Slough Trail – Circling around a wetlands, the 0.5-mile trail also crosses the adjoining Deep Pool. The shortest way to reach the trail is a connector trail heading southeast from the conservancy headquarters (the first building passes on the entry road); connector trails from the Dry Prairie Trail also lead to it.

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