Hiking at Lake Maria (Monticello, MN) 04-May-2023

With the weather once again cooperating 😎 mightily, we decided to do another loop hike at Lake Maria State Park. Our last visit had been almost exactly a year ago when we’d done the Hiking Club route and some of the interior trails. Today we did a big loop around the perimeter trails. Last year, there was drought here, this year there definitely wasn’t.

How can you do the same hike again and again? Well, we really don’t. We might go to the same place, but the hike is always different. That’s because Nature is always different, we’re different, the weather’s different, lots of things are different. So the “same” hike is never exactly the same.

We started from the parking lot near the Trail Center and went counter-clockwise on the Big Woods Trail, over Anderson Hill, and west toward Camper Cabin #1.

On the Big Woods Trail toward Anderson Hill
Birch reflections
On toward Anderson Hill
The view east from atop the Hill
On toward Camper Cabin #1
Bloodroot was the only wildflower we saw today
Standing water from our snowy winter

The park’s website said that the causeway south of Camper Cabin #2 was closed due to flooding. So after passing Camper Cabin #1, we diverted through Whitetail Group Camp to rejoin the Big Woods Trail farther down the road.

Curiosity being what it is, we made a small detour to see the causeway. It was obvious that, while it had been flooded, this was no longer the case – we were able to cross it back and forth without getting our feet wet. However, the water on the upstream side of it was still much higher than it had been during last year’s drought.

The causeway today
The causeway last year
To the north of the causeway
To the south of the causeway

From the causeway, we continued south on the Big Woods Trail to its junction with the Bjorkland Trail, then continued south on that trail to Maria Lake.

On toward Maria Lake

We arrived at Maria Lake to find a distinctly fishy odor in the air. It was coming from about 2 dozen rotting Bigmouth Buffalo fish floating in the water and piled on the shore. Considering this native species is capable of living for decades, it wasn’t obvious why they all died – a hard winter or thoughtless waste from poorly regulated fishing?

The Bigmouth Buffalo are a native species of what are termed “rough” fish. It was traditionally thought that such fish, even if native, needed to be removed so as not to impede game fish production. Thus unlimited fishing and dumping (or use as fertilizer) of such fish was encouraged.

It is now being recognized (too slowly perhaps) that such rough, nongame species have important roles in the ecosystem. Buffalo, for example, help control excess algae. Knowing this, perhaps killing them just because you can isn’t a good way to behave? 😒

Maria Lake
Maria Lake
Bigmouth Buffalo scales
“Scales” of polypore fungus

From Maria Lake, we went a little farther south on the Bjorkland Trail, then returned to the parking lot on the trail that comes close to County Road 39.

On the trail past County Road 39
More water from a wet winter
And yet more water
Returning to the parking lot

Our loop came to 4.9 miles (7.8 km) on yet another great day for a hike. All the trails were clear (including, as we found out, the causeway) and we passed only 2 other hikers during our loop – it almost seemed like we had the park to ourselves. 😁


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