Friday, July 31, 2015

Minnesota trail features live beaver lodge

Beaver Lodge Trail. Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR.

Route crosses oak savanna
on way to pond, wetlands

Day hikers can see a working beaver lodge on a short trail at Minnesota’s William O’Brien State Park.

The 0.7-mile Beaver Lodge Trail loops a wetlands where beavers have created a small pond. With the connecting trails, hikers will walk 1.7-miles round trip.

To reach the trail, from Stillwater, Minn., head north on Minn. Hwy. 95 to the park entrance. At the first junction, go left/southeast then turn at the left/southwest into a parking lot at the visitor center.

From there, walk the Wedge Hill Savanna Trail south, staying on that loop’s western side. The trail heads alongside a woodlands, the scent of dry oak leaves heavy on the air, as pileated woodpeckers tap-tap against the trees and warblers sing an array of melodies.

At the next junction, go left/west 0.2 miles. Here, the woods opens up to an oak savanna.

Tough lodge
Next, go left/south onto the Wetland Trail. When the trail splits in a few feet, it’s reached the Beaver Lodge Trail loop. A pond stretches between the two trails. Take the trail going left/south alongside the pond. You’ll quickly spot the beaver lodge sitting near the pond’s northern end.

Beaver lodges primarily provide a home so they are safe from predators. Though constructed of twigs and branches, it’s covered in mud that when frozen in winter is as hard as concrete.

If their lodges look like mansions, that’s because beavers are larger than most people think. They’re usually 35 to 40 inches long and weigh 40 to 50 pounds, but large males can be up to five feet long and top the scales at 90 pounds.

Should you be lucky, you’ll spot a beaver swimming about the pond. Don’t be surprise if you hear what sounds like a gunshot – it’s just a beaver snapping its tail against the water to warn its family of your approach.

Ideally adapted
Beavers are ideally adapted to living in water and can remain submerged for up to 20 minutes. Their tails act as rudders and propellers, while nictitating membranes cover the eyes to act as goggles when in the water. Their lips close behind the front teeth so that it can carry a branch in its mouth but not drown.

In a third of a mile from where the trail split, you’ll reach an intersection with the Wedge Hill Savanna Trail. Go right/west to stay on the Beaver Lodge Loop.

The trail circles about a wetlands where you may see signs of the beavers’ logging. With iron in their teeth and super strong jaws, beavers can chew through a 6-inch diameter tree in a mere 15 minutes. A single beaver can fell hundreds of trees a year.

In 0.2 miles, the loop intersects with the Wetland Trail. Go right/northeast. In another 0.2 miles, the trail reaches the split at the head of the beaver pond. From there, retrace your steps to the parking lot.

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