As noted before, the “bog” in Big Bog State Recreation Area didn’t sound all that enticing from a distance, but proved to be just the opposite up close. Just to provide some scale, the whole bog stretches 70 miles (112 km) from east to west and 30 miles (48 km) from north to south – 2,100 square miles (5,376 km2) or about the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined! The recreation area is a portion of this and is divided into northern and southern units; the Hiking Club route is in the northern unit, so we started there.

Northern Unit

The Hiking Club route starts at Ludlow Pond (an abandoned, water-filled gravel pit), circles the pond, and then heads straight north for a mile (1.6 km) on a plastic and aluminum boardwalk. This elevated walk enabled us to experience the vast expanse of the 500 square mile (1,295 km2) peat bog (the largest in the lower 48 states) located in this unit, without trampling any sensitive vegetation or critters while we did so.

Ludlow Pond, Northern Unit, Big Bog State Recreation Area, Minnesota
Ludlow Pond

The history information plaques along the boardwalk told an all too familiar tale of callousness and environmental cluelessness. 😒 The bog, which came into existence thousands of years ago following the demise of Glacial Lake Agassiz, had long been a source of medicinal plants for the Ojibwe.

Then, in 1889, the federal government “appropriated” (adjective: take without permission or consent, especially by public authority) three million acres (12,140 km2) of land from the Red Lake Indian Reservation and opened it to settlement. 😪 Between 1908 and 1916, huge ditches were dug across the bog in an ultimately failed effort to drain the land for farming.

In 1932, the State of Minnesota acquired the land in a deal to stave off bankruptcy of the local counties holding the debt resulting from the digging of those futile ditches. In 1933, the federal government paid to resettle the failed farmers. Yes, your tax dollars at work. 🙄 In 2000, the recreation area was established to create a sustainable tourist attraction for the nearby town of Waskish.

Views from the boardwalk could include orchids, carnivorous plants, and mosses. We were too late in the season to see any of these flower. On our way back, we did see some intricate, deep red, low-growing pitcher plants (Serracenia purpurea) plus a few birds and a frog or two. The stunted Tamarack (some having already gone golden) and Black Spruce forest is bizarre looking in its own special way.

Along the boardwalk
Conifer swamp forest with Black Spruce and Tamarack
A stunted Tamarack gone golden for the Fall
The alignment of one of the ditches (now backfilled) intended to drain the bog (it didn’t)
Leopard frog
A warm, sunny 😎 day on the boardwalk
Tamarack and sun at the end of the boardwalk
A cluster of Pitcher Plants seen on the way back
Pitcher Plant close-up
Frog on the boardwalk
Returning to the high ground of Ludlow Island
Our path along the boardwalk across the bog

Southern Unit

This unit of the Big Bog features the main campground, camper cabins, and the visitor center. But the attraction here for us was the 100-foot (30 m) tall fire tower. Steep metal stairs lead to an (almost) unobstructed 360° view of Upper Red Lake and the bog – which stretches off to the horizon. We counted the observation cab as a summit. 😏🙄

Smokey Bear
100 feet of steel glory
The LovedOne scurries up first
I have a (fleeting) second thought about this
On the “summit” with a view west over Upper Red Lake
Looking east over bog and forest
So long the summit…

Our last park of the day – Scenic – was a little over an hour away. When we got there, we would confront a situation that would test our moral compass. So stay tuned for the next exciting episode of philosophical conundrums in the park… 😁

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