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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Wild River - Interstate Subsitution

The plan was simple. Leave William O'Brien and visit Interstate State Park for the first time. Just up the road on highway 95 is the small tourist town of Taylors Falls. As 95 merges up with highway 8 you find yourself along steep river valley walls and a sliver of park land on the rapids laden St. Croix River. This location is prized for tubing, rafting, and kayak users and the park seems to be designed for those purposes with Scenic Boat Tours offered near the main parking lot.

The problem is that in the winter this park is shut down pretty hard. I first came upon what I thought was the main entrance, but turned out to just be a south parking lot. Main signage was not present so I just rolled past and found the lots offered were not really plowed so much as they were driver over into a crust of glazed ice.

I browsed the park website and saw the main lot to the north, but it was noted as closed in winter and no office hours at all. Like I said, this is a tourist town and the park seems to fit a specific purpose to provide natural space as a drop in for using the river.

I decided to just move on and spend my time farther north at Wild River State Park. I have visited on a few prior occasions and they all produced some excellent birds like Ruffed Grouse, Lark Sparrow, Hooded Warbler, Harris's Sparrow and Mourning Warbler.

I first stopped at the entrance station to discuss hiking routes and was put on the Amik's Pond Loop and the River Terrace Trail. These both seemed like good winter routes keeping distance from getting to unreasonable in the snow by foot.

I hiked a nice segment from the Trail Center parking with excellent in door flush facilities and seating that acts as a nice respite for hikers and skiers alike. I covered some new ground on this hike and saw some habitat I'm eager to investigate in the summer. I found a hidden group of Trumpeter Swan using a backwater open stretch on the hike and later had a Pileated Woodpecker patrolling the woods not far from the visitor center.

Trumpeter Swans hiding in a back water open stretch that either has a really nice current or is spring fed since it was well off river.

After this hike I thought I'd take a look at the River Terrace trail as I still felt like I had energy for more trail time. I drove up to the trail head parking and started a hike down to the Nevers Overlook. This segment drops down to nearly river level quickly and has you walk along the old road/dike the dam was attached to at one point. Though no dam structure exists you are afforded an acceptable view of the river as you turn to parallel the water for a stretch of time. As I arrived at the overlook I heard the wonderfully odd popping calls of a Common Raven moving up river just above the trees. It was like hearing a strange alien language as it intently went about it's business. This has actually been a good location for me to get Common Raven and has to be one of the more southern State Park locations to pick up the species on a regular basis.

This whole stretch of river is rich in logging history and provides many opportunities to read about life logging the river.

The remainder of my hike was low key and provided few birds, but a nice workout to finish the weekend.

The Great: Wild River has a lot of trail space will take a number of trips before I can say I've hiked all of them. As noted the southern regular range for Common Raven is in this space and seems to be a viable location for Ruffed Grouse as well. Considering other birds I've seen in my limited visit I really look forward to hiking more of this park. A serious northern segment of the park is also available dotted with the Sunrise Loop and Sunrise Trail. This northern portion has at least a dozen miles or more of river adjacent hiking. I doubt many have deeply birded this portion of the park and I intend to change that this year. I was also happy to see a nice balance between ski trail conversion and hiking/snow-shoe trails. With so much space available I still ran into many people out enjoying the first warm day in a long stretch.

The Meh: At this point I don't have anything that bums me out about this park. It is excellent and about the only thing I've noticed is that the St. Croix River in high water stages is likely to eliminated a fair amount of trail space until it drops. I know in a couple summer visits the River Trail was not an option as the backwater areas filled all low areas.

The Verdict: This park is plenty large to sustain many different kinds of effort. For my birding and hiking time this park is just what I need some days. It is close enough to the cities that a day trip won't have me feeling like the drive is a hindrance and it has so much to explore I expect I can get many a good hike in before looking for new spaces to explore. I'll be back this year looking to carve out some new species for the park list and my own.


  1. Did you look for overwintering Wilson's Snipe at Wild River? I've seen them there in the winter and remember a mou-net post from a few years back that seemed to indicate that they were there most winters.

    1. I did not, but that is very interesting thought. I wonder what location in the park that would be? Maybe back in the waters I saw the Trumpeter Swans. I may have to do some research and see what the MOU-NET posts of old have to say. Thanks for the idea.

  2. I've been to Interstate many times before but only bussed in to the parking lot as that is the launch spot for canoeing down 17 miles to William O'Brien. We used to do that every summer and now we don't find the time to do it, because...birds. Wow, Wild River has so many good birds. Exciting! Again, another for this summer.