Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wood Lake Nature Center (Blog Hike #695)

Trails: Perimeter and Prairie Trails
Hike Location: Wood Lake Nature Center
Geographic Location: Richfield, MN
Length: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2018
Overview: A flat loop featuring a floating wetland boardwalk.

Directions to the trailhead: On the south side of Minneapolis, take I-35W to 66th Street (exit 10).  Exit and go east on 66th St.  Drive 66th St. east 3 blocks to Lake Shore Drive and turn right on Lake Shore Dr.  Parking for Wood Lake Nature Center is less than 1 block ahead on the right.

The hike: Located in the heart of suburbia on the south side of Minneapolis, tiny Wood Lake Nature Center offers a green 150 acre oasis in a desert of concrete and steel.  The Nature Center dates to 1971, when a recreational lake surrounded by homes was converted to the wetland you see today.  In terms of facilities, the Center offers only a small picnic area and an Interpretive Building, which features many interesting exhibits about the wetland and the fauna that call it home.
            For hikers, the Center offers 5 trails totaling 3 miles that explore the Center’s wetland, prairie, and forest habitats.  The highlight of the trail system is a floating boardwalk that passes over the heart of the wetland.  The hike described here forms a figure-eight route with the boardwalk at the pinch of the route, thus allowing you to hike across the boardwalk twice without retracing your steps elsewhere.
Starting the Perimeter Trail counterclockwise
            From the front of the Interpretive Center, take the paved path to the west (right, as you stand facing the Interpretive Center’s front door) to begin heading counterclockwise on the Perimeter Trail.  Open water in the Center’s wetland sits to the left, but the Perimeter Trail stays in the shady woodlands for most of its loop.  After passing the picnic area on the right, the short Woodland Loop exits right.  The Woodland Loop and Perimeter Trail come back together in 0.1 miles, so you can choose either option you wish.  Some large basswood trees live here, and puffy litter from some cottonwood trees covered parts of the trail on my visit.
            The trail continues through a narrow strip of woods on a southwest course.  At 0.4 miles, you reach a trail intersection where you need to turn left to head for the floating boardwalk.  Soon you reach the edge of the open water, and a nice view of the Interpretive Center and some tall condominiums emerges over the wetland.  As this view indicates, the sights and sounds of suburbia are everywhere on this hike; they include these buildings, surrounding houses, adjacent I-35W, and a nearby airport.  Thus, while Wood Lake Nature Center offers a flat and pleasant hike, it is not the place to come for quiet and solitude.
Interpretive Center and condominiums across wetland
            Near 0.5 miles, you reach the floating boardwalk.  The boardwalk passes over open water, and its floating construction means that you have to step carefully to keep your balance.  The water is only a couple of feet deep, but I had no trouble crossing the boardwalk despite my lack of balance and physical coordination.  I spotted a beaver swimming in the water while walking across the boardwalk.
Floating boardwalk
            At the east end of the boardwalk, trails go left and right.  Going left takes you directly back to the Interpretive Center, and this hike will go that way a little later.  For now, turn right to explore the southern end of the wetland.  The wide dirt trail stays in the edge of the forest with the wetland on your right and some private residences on your left.
View from south end of wetland
            At 1.1 miles, you reach the south end of the wetland.  A bench here gives a nice northward view over the length of the wetland.  Just past the bench, the path forks with the Perimeter Trail going left and the Prairie Trail going right.  The two trails come back together on the west side of the wetland, so you can choose either option here.  Because most of this hike has stayed in the woods so far, I chose to take the right option and hike through the prairie.
Hiking over the causeway
            The Prairie Trail passes through its namesake prairie before heading over a narrow causeway in the wetland.  I saw a lot of birds on this part of the hike, including redwinged blackbirds, a family of Canada geese, a family of mallard ducks, and some egrets.  At 1.7 miles, you rejoin the Perimeter Trail.  Angle right to head back to the floating the boardwalk, and cross the floating boardwalk for a second time.
Hiking through the woods
            Upon reaching the east end of the boardwalk for a second time, choose the option going left.  The wide dirt trail stays in the woods as it heads up the northeast side of the open water.  Soon the parking area comes into view ahead.  The trail surface turns back to asphalt as the trail curves left to return you to the Interpretive Center, thus completing the hike.

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