Hiking Urban Wetlands

I’ve been trying to get out and do some hiking, but time seems to always be short. I’ve been getting to the gym a few times a week which is always good, but I need more of a ‘hiking-oriented’ workout, with scenic views to enjoy, and soon some climbing! The snow is gone, the trees are still bare, and traditional undergrowth has not yet greened up either. However, most trails are dry, and that’s all the incentive I need to get out the hiking boots.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been out and hiked around Wolf Lake, a wetland in suburban Minneapolis. Then I spent several hours on two separate occasions, hiking the wetlands habitat along the Minnesota River Valley just a few miles west of its confluence with the Mississippi River near historic Ft. Snelling.  Ft. Snelling includes the State Park and the National Cemetary.

The Minnesota River flows 318 miles from Ortonville in western Minnesota (near the South Dakota border) to its confluence with the Mississippi River in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Some portions are designated a Wild and Scenic River. The river valley was originally created by the glacial River Warren over 10,000 years ago. Most of Minnesota was covered by glaciers a mile deep, and they began slowly melting 10,000-20,000 years ago. The river flows through diverse terrain ranging from granite bluffs in the west to marsh lowlands in the east. There are miles of flood plain forests and vast areas of nesting habitat. Deer and game fish are abundant in many areas of the river valley.

The Army Corps. of Engineers manages the river for commercial barge traffic, while several Watershed Districts manage sections of the river and it’s adjacent drainage as to surface and groundwater quality, soil erosion and other environmental parameters. The Lower Minnesota River Watershed District Board manages the section of river from Carver County, through Scott and Dakota Counties, while Hennepin County covers much of surface and ground water drainage into the river – the lower river watershed!

I also visited Richardson Nature Center, in Hyland Lake Park Reserve, again in suburban Minneapolis, to enjoy the early spring weather.  Highland has 18 mi. of trails to hike, several small lakes, wetlands, hardwood forest, and open tall-grass prairie.  There are also wild turkeys, deer, hawks and eagles, and deer. Some wooded hills border the Highlands Hills Ski Area with its tow ropes, lifts and Olympic high jumps. Hyland Hills is just one of several Parks owned and operated by Three Rivers Park District, which consists of over 27,000 acres of Parks and Trails. I usually snowshoe there a couple of times every winter, it’s a short drive.

I brought my camera along on all hikes, and my handheld radio as well to Hyland Lake Park Reserve. Highland has some relatively high ground (the ski area) and I wanted to see what I could pick up on ‘line-of-sight’ VHF/UHF frequencies with the handheld unit. I’m not sure if I just couldn’t reach my normal repeater, or if no one was monitoring it. However, I did reach one mobile unit on a nearby highway, on 2 m FM simplex, 146.52 MHz. within a few minutes of seeking a contact. I didn’t try for others as I was headed back to the car and still looking for photo ops with the camera.

This is a unique time of the year -that short period between winter and spring. Now that you know something about each area I visited, lets look at some photos.

Day 1  -Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, NWR

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (1)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (1)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (2)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (2)

 

Minnesota River Valley (3)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (3)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (4)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (4)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (5)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (5)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (6)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (6)

 

Low-lands near the river or its backwater channels tends to flood to some extent most years during the high waters associated with spring snow-melt. Every decade of so the flooding can get severe.

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (7)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, National Wildlife Refuge (7)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (8)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, garter snakes, National Wildlife Refuge (8)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (9)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, towboat pushing long line of barges, National Wildlife Refuge (9)

 

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit (10)

Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, towboat and barges, National Wildlife Refuge (10)

 

Day 2  -Wolf Lake

 

Wolf Lake (1)

Wolf Lake wetlands (1)

 

Wolf Lake (2)

Wolf Lake wetlands (2)

 

This expanse of wetlands serves as home to many small animals and game birds. The area is also home to coyotes and trails are posted, warning hikers to watch their pets. Coyotes are notorious opportunistic predators. They would attack small pets and other wild animals, even small children if the opportunity presented itself.

Many coyotes have taken up residence in parts of Minneapolis and some neighboring suburbs in recent years. They have entered these urban areas in migrations following river valleys, streams and creeks since they can often find traditional sources of food (small mammals and birds) in such areas. Then they find raccoons, squirrels and the occasional small pets, plus urban garbage in the city, and soon become permanent urban residents. Sometimes coyotes are downplayed by local police and animal humane society advocates, but they should be recognized as dangerous wild animals and treated accordingly, i.e. don’t feed them!

 

Wolf Lake (3)

Wolf Lake wetlands (3)

 

Wolf Lake (4)

Wolf Lake goose (4)

 

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (5)

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (5)

 

I always enjoy watching the blue herons and white egrets stalking dinner in the shallows of small lakes and ponds; their slow, deliberate movements and quickness to pounce when dinner is found!

 

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (6)

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (6)

 

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (7)

Wolf Lake Blue Heron (7)

 

Wolf Lake turtle sunning (8)

Wolf Lake turtle sunning (8)

 

Likewise, it’s always fun seeing painted turtles and mud turtles up on logs, out of the water and away from predators, sunning themselves on warm days. When they get warmed, they slide back into the cool water, find something to eat while they have the energy, and cool off. Then they repeat the process… what a life!

 

Wolf Lake goose (9)

Wolf Lake goose (9)

 

Wolf Lake goose (10)

Wolf Lake goose (10)

 

This fellow, and his mate, took a liking to the photographer this day. They watched as I took pictures, and swam right up to the shore where I stood.

 

Wolf Lake goose (11)

Wolf Lake goose (11)

 

Then they proceeded to exit the water heading right at me. I slowly, then not so slowly, backed up and away as I continued taking pictures. They got closer and closer, kinda right in my face… you get the idea. I eventually stood down and departed the area. Tough birds!

 

Wolf Lake goose (12)

Wolf Lake goose (12)

 

Wolf Lake more turtles sunning (13)

Wolf Lake more turtles sunning (13)

 

It should be noted that Wolf Lake is only about three blocks from one of my favorite craft breweries, Steel Toe Brewing. And my gym is about four blocks from Steel Toe in the opposite direction. Is that a coincidence or what! No, just rhetorical facts me thinks! 😉

 

Day 3  -Richardson Nature Center -Hyland Lake Park Reserve and Ski Area, part of Three Rivers Park District

 

Richardson Nature Center - Hyland Lake Park Reserve

Richardson Nature Center – Hyland Lake Park Reserve, Three Rivers Park District

 

Small saplings and larger, wind damaged trees

Small saplings and larger, wind damaged trees

 

Older branches decaying on the forest floor

Older branches decaying on the forest floor

 

Early mushrooms on a hardwood tree

Early mushrooms growing on a hardwood tree.

 

Young hardwood forest

Trail passes through a young hardwood forest.

 

Small birds are everywhere

Small birds are everywhere

 

Wetlands support a diverse array of wildlife

Wetlands support a diverse array of wildlife

 

Birdhouse up on a post, protected from predators

Birdhouse up on a post, protected from predators.

 

Oak tree surrounded by prairie grass

A stately Oak tree surrounded by prairie grass.

 

Hardwood deciduous trees border tall grasslands

Hardwood deciduous trees border tall grasslands

 

Mixed grasslands

Mixed grasslands prairie

 

Two birdhouses in the grass

Two birdhouses in the grass

 

Prairie grass seed pods and birdhouse on the hill

Prairie grass seed pods and birdhouse in the distance, on the hill.

 

Different varieties of grassland seed pods

Different varieties of grassland seed pods

 

Another variety of grassland seed pods

Another variety of grassland seed pods

 

Yet another variety of grassland seed pods

Yet another variety of grassland seed pods

 

There are some controlled prairie grass burns scheduled at Hyland Lake Park Reserve this spring. They want to get rid of some weeds and unwanted grasses. I remember seeing a ‘controlled burn’ in a State Park about five years ago when hiking with  my grandson, Charlie. I explained what was going on with the ‘controlled burn.’ A few weeks later his teacher in elementary school was talking about ‘controlled burns’ and started with a picture, asking students what they thought was happening. Charlie surprised her by explaining exactly what was going on and why. Needless to say she was surprised by what this eight year old already knew about ‘controlled burns.’ Kids theses days!

 

More turtles sunning on logs

More turtles sunning on logs. They seem to be in every body of water soaking up the sun this time of year.

 

Majestic Oak along the trail

Majestic Oak along the trail.

 

Woodland marsh with bird houses

Woodland marsh with two bird houses on posts, protected from sneaky predators.

 

Day 4  -Minnesota River Valley -Long Meadow Lake Unit, NWR   Bass Ponds and Hogback Ridge Trail

 

Bass Ponds Trail

Bass Ponds Trail (1)

 

Bass Ponds Trail

Bass Ponds Trail (2)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (1)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (2)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (3)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (4)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (5)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (6)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (7)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (8)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (9)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (10)

 

Hogback Ridge Trail

Hogback Ridge Trail (11)

 

Very soon all these areas will change dramatically. When the snow melts everything is drab for a few weeks, then BANG, everything comes alive in color.

Green foliage will fill trees and brush. The tall prairie grasses will grow three – four feet tall across the prairie and colorful wild flowers will appear everywhere. Birds and butterflies will fill the air. It will look totally different -totally beautiful!

I’ll post a few shots again in 3-6 weeks to show the contrast. It’ll be amazing! Maybe I’ll get a shot of the ‘controlled burn’ as well.

73 de Mike, KEØGZT

~~~~~~~

 

About Mike Hohmann

I did lots of camping/hiking as a kid in the Scouts, and I still strive to 'be prepared.' After high school, I got bored with more school and enlisted in the Army Corps. of Engineers, doing two tours in Vietnam. Post military, I completed BS and MBA degrees and spent several decades with Corporate America, working mostly in the areas of conventional and renewable energy. I also spent over a decade as a self-employed small business consultant in marketing and finance. As a young family man with a wife and two kids, we spent many vacations camping and hiking in northern Minnesota. I spent additional long weekends fishing the rivers and camping/hiking along the North Shore of Lake Superior. I retired early and hit the trails hard-- in the lower-48, Alaska, and western Canada. These days I backpack, car-camp and day-hike, go snowshoeing, and try to get the grand-kids out to teach them the ways of the trail. Other interests include American Revolutionary War and Civil War history, 19th and 20th century firearms, Native American history; business and macroeconomics. I'm a recently-licensed amateur (Ham) radio operator, and I look forward to many radio-related adventures in coming months. Life is good! Member, Superior Hiking Trail Association; Member, Appalachian Mountain Club; Member, REI; Member, ARRL- Amateur Radio Relay League, the National Assoc. for Amateur Radio; Twin Cities Metro Skywarn Spotter; Twin City FM Club; Richfield Amateur Radio Club; QRP ARCI, Low-Power Amateur Radio Club International; Honorary Member, Toronto QRP Society; Life Member, National Rifle Association
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2 Responses to Hiking Urban Wetlands

  1. ray says:

    wondered where you were ! the pic of the big oak reminded me of an early 70s hike i took in the early days of the park, a couple miles up river from from jordan where i encountered a huge elm growing all alone in what had been a field, then growing up. it was a little later in the spring and that elm was alive with orioles. from the side i was on i counted over 50 nests ‘dripping’ from the branches. didn’t want to stir things up so did not circle the tree but there must have been hundreds of nests. there were at that time ‘sorta” trails and the old fences had been removed but not much in the way of improvements at that time. never went back !!

    • Mike Hohmann says:

      Yes Ray, the Three Rivers Park District, including Hyland Lake Reserve and the Richardson Nature Center are quite the operations today. I visit several times a year, often with grandsons in-tow. The Spring Lake Regional Trail goes right through Jordan these days. In fact you can go from Jordon NE through Spring Lake Regional Park and continue N to cross the river just west of The Landing, in north Shakopee. All in all, it’s a very large system -over 27,000 acres! Thanks for checking out the blog, Ray. Your comments are always welcome.

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