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MOU Members: The first half of my article A Big Year in Washington County is now available to read in the January/February edition of MN Birding News.

Fellow birder and local celebrity Birdchick (Sharon Stiteler) wrote an article on some Common Redpoll behavior I observed and photographed recently in Lake Elmo.



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

John Latsch - One Trick Pony

After a calorie loading in the city of Winona I ran north to John Latsch State Park to complete my day long circuit of parks in the south-eastern portion of the state. I knew as I arrived what to expect from this park. It is a small parcel of land just off the highway and the Mississippi River and had limited space and limited hiking.


My 7th park of the year and 3rd of the day would close out with a single short trail with a gain of 450' of elevation.


At 600+ stairs this climb would be strenuous in any weather and certainly had potential for treacherous with snow covering the steps. Having already hiked several miles on the day I took these stairs a bit slower than I might normally and paused a few times to look about the woods and keep my breath.

At the top I was rewarded with a great view of the river valley stretched over to Wisconsin. I saw and heard only a few birds with a Blue Jay causing a racket a ways off and a Hairy Woodpecker chiming in from time to time. The elevation doesn't really eliminate the highway noise so the greatest value of this park and hike is a wonderful view of the river and surrounding bluffs. Downriver one can see Lock and Dam #5 and a small patch of open water below the dam itself.

The bluff, river, and Wisconsin view looking north from the bluff top at John Latsch.

The view south of Lock and Dam #5 from the bluff top.

I found myself thinking that a seriously dedicated birder could lug a large scope up to the top of the bluff and scan for waterfowl in the spring and fall while also executing an epic hawk migration watch. It would be lonely and the bathroom is another 600+ stairs down, but you really could add some fun birds to a park that is seriously limited due to the size and configuration of land. The DNR site indicates 1,600 acres, but with some measure of that being bluff face and slope I'm not sure a person could really explore even half of that amount of space. (Though the bluff top did appear to have some deer trails leading along the crown that might provide some extra hiking space.)

After snapping some pics and relaxing for a few minutes I headed down the stairs being sure to watch my foot falls carefully. Any slip on the way down would surely ruin a persons day in a heartbeat. On the way I saw a tree bumped up tight against the railing and starting to merge with the wood. Someone had scrawled "Nom Nom" near the point and I laughed out loud a bit. Not a fan of random graffiti, but it was worth a chuckle and it was certainly a minor offense to the wood rail.


The Great: Man, what a view and certainly for the exercise minded adding this 600+ stair climb on the day ensured I had gotten my share of exercise for the day. I was around 2,000 stairs on the day after this effort. Many times expectation is the important factor in reacting to something new and I didn't expect a lot from such a small property. That being said it gives what it can and the view in fall colors must be amazing.

The Meh: As noted this is a small and wicked steep park. Assuming low traffic a bird watcher could easily move up slope on the stairs progressively and listen for migrating warbler flocks. Beyond that options are very limited if you don't have the juice it takes to hike up that many stairs. I would be hard pressed to recommend this park beyond the view at the top. I made the top and back down with a 10 or 15 minute break at the peak in 45 minutes so I'm not thinking it would entertain beyond and hour or two at the most.

The Verdict: Do this if you need a short challenge and want to say you climbed 600 stairs. The serious bird lister might grind out species in this park, but it is not likely capable of a very diverse list considering the footprint and lack of habitat. Me, I'll be back. It's such a convenient stop and I love a challenge so maybe I'll do this 3 more times and hike it in every season so I can get some bluff top comparison photos. I've already done the hard part and I love to exercise.

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