Wednesday, July 13, 2016

North Country segment passes hemlocks

Map of Chequamegon Hardwoods State Natural Area, courtesy WI DNR.
Day hikers can explore a northern Wisconsin forest with massive old growth hemlock trees on a segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail.

The segment runs 2.2-mile round trip through the contiguous Chequamegon National Forest and the Chequamegon Hardwoods State Natural Area. Stretching from New York to North Dakota, the North Country Trail crosses seven states over a 4600-mile course.

To reach the trail segment, from Mellen, Wis., drive west on County Road GG. Once inside the Chequamegon National Forest, turn right/north onto Forest Road 187. Then turn right/northeast onto Forest Road 188, which as veering east becomes Hanson Road. After passing the Beaver Dam Lake Road intersection, watch for where the North Country National Scenic Trail crosses the road. At the crossing, park off the side of the road and take the trail northeast.

The trail heads through a northern mesic forest in which basswood, red oak, sugar maple, white ash and yellow birch dominate. Below it grow alternate-leaved dogwood, beaked hazelnut, and mountain maple. Beneath that shrub layer, more than 80 plant species can be found, including blue cohosh, green adders’-mouth, lesser purple fringed orchid, nodding trillium, spikenard, and spotted coralroot orchid.

At about 0.4 miles, the trail unceremoniously enters the state natural area’s southeast corner. Though originally logged off in the 1930s, large old-growth hemlock and big-tooth aspen both still can be found here; some old-growth hemlocks boast a diameter of five feet. Scattered gabbro rock outcroppings, some of which are up to 50 feet high, also can be found in the state natural area.

The trail departs the state natural area in a little more than 0.1 miles. You’ll know you’ve left, as the route passes a wet area once you’ve re-entered the national forest.

Black ash, red maple and white cedar common on this wet-mesic forest portion of the route. Amphibians, including the red-backed salamander and wood frog, are here as well.

The rest of the trail is dry as it runs east through the northern mesic forest. The variety of trees in this second-growth forest makes for a colorful walk in autumn.

About 0.3 miles from the wetlands are a pair of knolls that mark the two high points along the trail. They top out at 1535 (the westernmost knoll) and 1538 feet (the easternmost) above sea level.

The trail’s crossing of North York Road marks a good spot to turn back. Alternately, this makes a great point-to-point hike if you have a driver disinterested in hiking.

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