Monday, September 17, 2018

Brunet Island State Park: Timber, Pine, and Jean Brunet Nature Trails (Blog Hike #717)


Trails: Timber, Pine, and Jean Brunet Nature Trails
Hike Location: Brunet Island State Park
Geographic Location: west side of Cornell, WI
Length: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2018
Overview: A semiloop through nice forest on Brunet Island.

Directions to the trailhead: The entrance to Brunet Island State Park is on the north side of SR 64 on the west side of Cornell just before crossing the Chippewa River.  Enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, and drive the one-way park loop road to the beach parking area at its southern end.

The hike: Flowing for 183 miles on a northeast to southwest course, the Chippewa River is one of northwestern Wisconsin’s main waterways.  The river gets its name from the Chippewa or Ojibwe Indians, who controlled most of the river’s watershed until the Treaty of St. Peters in 1837.  The watershed contains much of northern Wisconsin’s vast white pine forests, and the river became a major transportation route for cut logs in the mid to late 1800’s.  The large lumber and paper industries fed by logs floated down the river made the City of Eau Claire the regional center it is today.
            Located above Eau Claire where the Fisher River joins the Chippewa River, Brunet Island State Park protects more than 1300 acres including its namesake 179-acre island at the two rivers’ confluence.  The park is named for Jean Brunet, a French nobleman who built the first sawmill and dam in Chippewa Falls, a city near Eau Claire, in 1836.  Later Brunet built a trading post just downstream from the park, and the site of the trading post is marked with an historical marker along SR 178 southwest of Cornell.  In fact, Cornell was originally named Brunet Falls after this trading post.
            The park came to be in 1936 when the Northern States Power Company donated the island to the State of Wisconsin.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built some structures here in 1938, and today the park offers a pair of campgrounds totaling 69 sites, a riverside swimming beach, a boat landing, a ballfield, a playground, and some picnic areas. 
For hikers, the park’s longest trail is the 3.1 mile Nordic Trail, which is located on the main land rather than the island and (as its name implies) is designed primarily for cross-country skiing in the winter.  Yet most local experts believe the park’s best hiking trails lie on the island.  This hike explores the short and flat island hiking trails, which offer a nice walk through mature forest along with good Chippewa River views.  After my previous two rushed hikes in Minnesota (rushed in order to finish the hike as fast as possible, thereby getting myself out of the bugs as fast as possible), I had a very relaxing, pleasant, and low bug hike on Brunet Island.
Start of Timber Trail near beach parking area
            From the beach parking area, head north across the paved park loop road to reach the signed start of the Timber Trail.  Trails on Brunet Island are not marked, but they are easy to follow with signed intersections.  The single-track dirt trail heads in the general direction of north through a nice forest that features maple and birch trees.  The understory is fairly open but contains some ferns.  I saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers in this section of the woods.
Hiking the Timber Trail
            Just past 0.3 miles, the signed Pine Trail exits right.  Turn right to leave the Timber Trail and begin the Pine Trail, the longest trail on the island.  The Pine Trail embarks on a meandering course through the north-central part of the island, which as the trail’s name suggests is dominated by pine trees.  Where the east arm of the park loop road comes into view, the trail curves left to remain in the forest.
            At 0.7 miles, you reach the north end of the Pine Trail where it intersects the north arm of the park loop road.  Cross the road to begin the Jean Brunet Nature Trail, a 0.6 mile loop through the northernmost part of Brunet Island.  Almost immediately you reach the trail intersection that forms the Nature Trail’s loop, and options go straight and right.  Continue straight to hike the loop clockwise.
Chippewa/Fisher River
            The trail descends slightly to reach the bank of the tan-colored Chippewa River.  The Chippewa and Fisher Rivers have numerous islands near their confluence, so the land mass you see across the river is an island and not the other bank.  For the next 0.3 miles the trail curves right to follow the bank of the Chippewa/Fisher River, which stays in sight to your left most of the time.
Inlet of Fisher River
            The trail surface turns to asphalt just before you need to turn right to leave the asphalt and continue the Nature Trail’s loop.  This turn is not marked, and if you reach the park loop road on the asphalt trail you have missed this turn.  In that case, backtrack about 50 yards to find the trail.  The last leg of the Nature Trail features a few interpretive signs as it heads west with the park loop road through the trees on your left.
            At 1.2 miles, you close the Nature Trail loop.  Turn left to get back to the park loop road, where two options present themselves to finish the hike.  One option is to simply retrace your steps 0.7 miles along the Pine and Timber Trails, but some of the retracing can be avoided if you do not mind a short road walk.  To execute the second option, turn right on the park loop road and walk against the one way traffic for a few hundred feet to the signed north end of the Timber Trail on the left.  Hiking the Timber Trail south its full length returns you to the beach parking area to complete the hike.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Lowry Nature Center at Carver Park Reserve: Tamarack Trail (Blog Hike #716)


Trail: Tamarack Trail
Hike Location: Lowry Nature Center (at Carver Park Reserve)
Geographic Location: northwest of Victoria, MN
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2018
Overview: A relatively flat circumnavigation of Crosby Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of Minneapolis, take I-494 to SR 7 (exit 16B).  Exit and go west on SR 7.  Drive SR 7 west 13.2 miles to Victoria Drive.  Take the third exit from the traffic circle to head south on Victoria Dr.  The signed entrance for Lowry Nature Center is 1.2 miles ahead on the left.  Park in the large paved parking lot near the Nature Center building.

The hike: Located on the western edge of the Twin Cities metro area, 3719 acre Carver Park Reserve is the second largest park in the Three Rivers Park District, which was introduced in detail in the previous hike.  The park is named for its location in eastern Carver County, which in turn is named after the explorer Jonathan Carver who explored this area in 1766 and 1767.  The park reserve features the 57-site Lake Auburn Campground, an archery range, and the Grimm Farm Historic Site, which is often called the birthplace of the Dairy Belt because the Grimm family developed the first winter-hardy alfalfa in North America here in the mid 1800’s.
            In terms of trails, Carver Park Reserve offers 9 miles of horse trails and 10 miles of paved bike trails, but the park reserve’s best hiking trails are found in its 250-acre Lowry Nature Center.  Lowry Nature Center is the oldest nature center in the Twin Cities, and it offers multiple loop trails open only to hikers.  Because much of the Nature Center’s land is periodically inundated, bugs will be terrible here during the summer.  Therefore, I chose to keep my hike short by hiking only the Tamarack Trail described here.  Over the course of the trail description I will suggest several other loops you could add to extend the hike if conditions are more pleasant when you visit.
Exiting the Nature Center
            After exiting the front door of Lowry Nature Center, turn right on the asphalt trail, which quickly ends at a small butterfly garden.  Turn right again on a two-track dirt/gravel trail, and notice the small pier on Crosby Lake downhill to the left.  The Tamarack Trail starts as a mulch trail exiting left just past this pier.
            The northern arm of the Tamarack Trail’s loop heads west through a dense forest that features some large oak trees.  Just past 0.3 miles, the Aspen Trail exits right to start its 1.1 mile loop that includes an overlook of Stone Lake.  The Tamarack Trail continues west and passes two picnic tables that offer nice views of Crosby Lake provided the bugs permit you to linger awhile.
Crosby Lake
            At 0.5 miles, the forest starts to transition to prairie as the trail curves left around the west end of Crosby Lake.  The trail surface also turns to mowed grass here.  Ignore a short-cut trail that exits left, but at 0.7 miles a boardwalk spur exiting right leads a short distance to a platform overlooking a periodically inundated wetland.  The wetland makes for good wildlife viewing if the bugs are tolerable.
            0.8 miles into the hike, an unofficial trail exits right where you need to turn left to stay on the Tamarack Trail.  Some plastic blue diamonds mark this section of trail for cross-country skiers in the winter.  Now the trail heads east through the nicest prairie on this hike, and goldenrod lines either side of the trail.
Hiking through the prairie
            At 1.2 miles, the Lake Trail exits right to begin its 0.8 mile loop around a couple of small lakes.  Crosby Lake’s dedication monument, identified on the park map as Crosby Rock, is located on the left just past this intersection.  More flat walking brings you back to the butterfly garden where the Tamarack Trail closes its loop.  The Nature Center building and the parking lot lie just ahead.  If you want to do more hiking, the Aspen and Lake Trails mentioned above offer more aquatic scenery.  Also, the Oak and Maple Trails located east of the Nature Center building offer loops of 0.6 and 1.4 miles respectively through terrain similar to what you saw on the Tamarack Trail.