Continuing on with our state park quest, we went southwest of Minneapolis to hike in a unit of the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area. There we sought out the Hiking Club Trail that circles between the lowland floodplain and adjacent upland hardwood forests. We added some diversions to see a piece of Minnesota history – the Strait House – and a stretch of the Minnesota River.
Today was another clear, warm, sunny day ahead of more, ah, tumultuous weather expected tomorrow and into next week. It was a good day to get in a hike without having to dodge rain showers or lightning bolts. We were also graced with a hefty breeze that kept some flying bugs at bay.
And now, to mesmerize you with cartographic minutiae! The recreation area is divided into five units along the Minnesota River between Shakopee and Belle Plaine. These units are connected by the Minnesota Valley State Trail which runs (paved and unpaved) for some 29.3 miles (47 km) between Bloomington and Belle Plaine (plus a bit more near Burnsville). The Hiking Club Trail is located in the Lawrence Unit at the southern end of the recreation area.
We were the first car at the Lawrence’s trail center parking lot. Another car arrived within five minutes. When we got back, the lot was overflowing, with cars parked along the entrance road – with more arriving as we left. No sunny day missed! But everyone seems to have spread out nicely, as we encountered only a few people on the trail.
From the trail center, we went roughly northeast past Beason Lake to the junction with the spur trail to the Strait House. Judging from the topo map, Beason is a waterbody whose water level fluctuates seasonally. It shows on the topo as a string of ponds and marshes but today is was full enough to truly look like a big lake.
Just past the middle of Beason, the trail came to a junction, with a right turn to continue on the Hiking Club route or straight ahead to the Strait House. After some navigational confusion, we finally went straight ahead (no pun intended 🤔) through a patch of forest and across a broad swath of old farm land to visit the house.
Samuel Burton Strait was one of four businessmen who founded the Village of St. Lawrence in 1858. It was intended to be the primary stop for river traffic on the Minnesota River. Today’s Strait House is the one Samuel built for himself in the community. It features well-crafted, thick limestone walls, big windows, and a shaded front porch. It’s a classically simple, sturdy, beautiful little house. It was restored in 2000 (but could still use some work). The village itself, unlike Strait’s house, did not last. It was by-passed by the railroad (which had rendered river traffic largely obsolete) in 1866 and, by 1869, the village was all but abandoned. However, the township of St. Lawrence continues to thrive.
From the house we walked down to the banks of the Minnesota River, which was flowing quite briskly. Our idea of looping back on a section of the Minnesota Valley State Trail evaporated when we found the trail dotted with spots of standing water and pretty muddy overall. It is in a flood plain after all. So we retraced our steps back to the junction and returned via the Hiking Club Trail through the upland forest.
This little loop and its diversions came to 4.8 miles (7.7 km) with about 100 feet (30 m) of elevation gain. Except for gnats and flies (none biting) and some birds twittering (the old way) from hiding, today wasn’t a big day for wildlife. Hiking in a flood plain was a bit of a new experience – and a positive one mainly because we skipped a slog through mud along the state trail. And the Strait House was a delight. 😁 This being a short hike, we had time for lunch at the Oldenburg Brewing Company in nearby Belle Plaine. Their beer was great, as were their tacos and flatbread. 🍺🌮👍