Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tamarack Nature Center: Dragonfly and Deer Pass Trails (Blog Hike #694)

Trails: Dragonfly and Deer Pass Trails
Hike Location: Tamarack Nature Center
Geographic Location: White Bear Township, MN
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2018
Overview: A flat to rolling loop featuring prairie, wetland, and forest habitats.

Directions to the trailhead: North of Saint Paul, take I-35E to Highway 96 (exit 117).  Exit and go east on Highway 96.  Drive Highway 96 east 0.8 miles to Otter Lake Road and turn left on Otter Lake Rd.  Drive Otter Lake Rd. north 1.5 miles to the signed Tamarack Nature Center entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the Center, and park in the large paved lot in front of the Nature Center building.

The hike: Owned and maintained by Ramsey County, Tamarack Nature Center consists of 320 acres on the northern fringe of the Twin Cities metro area.  True to its name, nature takes center stage at Tamarack, as it offers only a play area, a small developed garden, and a Nature Center building for amenities.  The Nature Center building was closed when I came here after a math conference on a Tuesday evening, but I have read that it offers some nice exhibits and programs, especially for younger children.
            Tamarack Nature Center’s land includes a mix of prairie, wetlands, and woodlands, and all of these areas can be explored on the Center’s 6 trails that total 5.5 miles.  The Center’s trail system includes the 0.8 mile Bluestem Trail Paved Loop, and Ramsey County’s paved Birch Lake Regional Trail passes beside the Nature Center.  The hike described here forms a fairly flat 2.8 mile loop through all of the Center’s habitats by combining the Dragonfly Trail, which features the Center’s prairie and wetlands, with the Deer Pass Trail featuring the Center’s woodlands.  Note that pets are not allowed at Tamarack Nature Center.
Dirt road leading to Dragonfly Trail
            From the front of the Nature Center’s building, head north first on the paved trail, then continue north on a two-track dirt road where the paved trail curves sharply left.  Soon you reach post #2, where the short Bluebird Trail exits right.  Continue straight to begin the mowed-grass Dragonfly Trail.  Trail intersections at Tamarack Nature Center are marked with tall brown numbered posts bearing symbols for the various trails that meet at that intersection.  The Dragonfly Trail’s symbol is a white dragonfly with a dark blue background.
            At 0.1 miles, you reach post #4, where the Dragonfly Trail turns left.  For the next 0.6 miles the trail heads roughly west along the Center’s north boundary.  This section of trail passes between a pine forest on the right and a prairie and wetland on the left.  Traffic noise from County Road H2 E just to the right becomes audible.  At 0.4 miles, you pass a bench in an attractive location under a large, old pine tree.
Bench under pine tree
            0.7 miles into the hike, you reach the Center’s west boundary, and the trail curves left.  Noisy I-35E appears across the Center’s boundary to the right here.  A large number of cottonwood trees live in this area, and I saw a lot of birds including some redwinged blackbirds.
1 mile into the hike, you reach post #7 and a major trail intersection.  If you wanted to stay in the prairie, you could continue straight on the Dragonfly Trail here.  To also see the Center’s woodlands, this hike turns right to begin the Deer Pass Trail.  The symbol for the Deer Pass Trail is a white deer with a brown background.
Starting the Deer Pass Trail
            The Deer Pass Trail features more up-and-down than the Dragonfly Trail, and it appears to tread atop a sequence of kames, or mounds of dirt and gravel deposited at the end of the last ice age.  At 1.2 miles, you cross a small stream that feeds small Fish Lake.  A nice view of the lake emerges across the prairie to the left.
View across prairie to Fish Lake
            The trail climbs steeply to top the next kame as you pass around the south side of Fish Lake.  At 1.6 miles, a spur trail to Hammond Road and the Birch Lake Regional Trail exits right.  The dirt Deer Pass Trail curves left here.  Soon the trail crosses the outflow of Fish Lake and reenters the prairie.  If you look over your left shoulder just after reentering the prairie, you will see the white water tower that stands beside the White Bear Township administrative building.
            At 1.8 miles, you reach post #8, where the Deer Pass Trail turns right.  Just under 1000 feet later, the Deer Pass Trail ends at post #10.  Turn right to rejoin the Dragonfly Trail and continue your counterclockwise journey.  The Center’s wetlands now take center stage, and I saw a large number of Canada geese here.
Hiking past the wetland
            Soon a seasonal trail exits left, but it was closed due to wetness on my visit.  Thus, I was forced to follow the Dragonfly Trail all the way to its intersection with the asphalt Birch Lake Regional Trail, which runs adjacent to Otter Lake Road.  Turn left on the paved trail and walk it north 0.25 miles to another sign for the Tamarack Nature Center.  Turn left here to reenter the Center and continue the Dragonfly Trail.
            In quick fashion you walk around a vehicle gate and pass posts #13 and #12.  Side trails leading to the developed garden exit right, and other trails heading to the boardwalk on the Acorn Trail (not described in this blog) exit left.  Just shy of 2.7 mile, you intersect the Bluestem Trail Paved Loop.  A right turn and short walk will return you to the Nature Center building and complete the hike.

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