Looking for a break from the usual routine?
Consider driving north.
You don't have to go very far. Just up to Bemidji, and then a few miles past town on Highway 71, to the Bog Walk at Lake Bemidji State Park.
You'll need to pay five bucks for a day pass or $25 for a State Park sticker (good for the following 12 months), but the entry fee is well worth the cost.
The park itself has a number of pleasant attractions, including swimming, boating, fishing, bird watching, hiking, camping, biking, geocaching and, in the winter, snowmobiling. There's a visitor center with interpretive exhibits, a gift shop and naturalist programs scheduled from now through Labor Day.
But in my estimation, the Bog Walk tops the list.
A one-mile hike from the parking lot leads you through the woods to the boardwalk that takes you into the bog. As you start down the boardwalk, it feels like you're stepping back into the ancient past a place where dinosaurs or other lumbering reptiles might come into view around the next bend.
Interpretive signs and photos along the way help you understand what you're seeing, and explain the workings of a bog. Wood benches along the way allow you to rest from your exertions and travel at whatever speed you choose.
Spring and early summer are particularly good times to visit the place, since many orchids are in bloom, including the moccasin-flower and the Showy Lady's-slipper. Against a background of sphagnum moss and Labrador tea, other interesting plants intrigue the eye: insect-eating pitcher plants and sundews, bunchberry, twinflowers, starflowers, dragon's mouth, blueberries and dwarf raspberries, to name a few.
The diversity of vegetation in the park supports many wildlife species. Birdwatchers have spotted red-eyed and warbling vireos, rose-breasted grosbeaks, a variety of woodpeckers, ospreys, eagles, loons, herons, barred owls and veeries, as well as various sparrows and warblers.
Hikers often come across deer, porcupine, squirrels, chipmunks, beaver and other mammals, including the occasional black bear. In the evening, visitors are treated to the sound of gray tree frogs, spring peepers and a chorus of wood frogs.
At the end of the Bog Walk, near the edge of a small lake, a thermometer displays the ambient air temperature as well as the temperature just below the surface of the bog. Two weeks ago, at noon, the first was 83 degrees while the second was 44. The coolness of the bog, together with its natural acidity, creates an environment in which dead plants and animals decay over long periods of time, leading eventually to the formation of peat.
Located in a pine-moraine region of the state, Lake Bemidji State Park contains a wide mixture of trees and shrubs ranging from mixed red and white pine uplands to jack pine barrens to the spruce-, alder- and tamarack-studded bogs containing some of Minnesota's most unusual plants.
The park offers a safe and accessible chance to experience some uncommon insights into the natural world. And it's right in our own back yard.
Copyright 2012 by Craig Nagel
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