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Continued: State of Wonders: A wild world blooms in northwestern Minnesota

  • Article by: KERRI WESTENBERG , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 15, 2014 - 2:16 PM

“Some people have tried to walk across,” a park ranger told me. “But so far this year, I haven’t seen anybody make it without getting wet.”

I took off my shoes and socks and dipped in my toes, but nothing more. The lake held the chill of the ice cover that melted not many weeks ago.


• • •


The next morning, I walked over water.

At the Big Bog State Recreation Area, just 40 miles south of the Canadian border in Waskish, I strolled a milelong aluminum and plastic boardwalk that stretches over this wet and wild world.

All around, small purple blooms of the bog laurel carpeted the floor in a brilliant show of spring. The white wispy flowers of cotton grass swayed in the breeze. Tamaracks, those coniferous trees that sprout fresh needles each spring, were lined in lime green, the color of new growth.

The ground looked firm, but that was deceiving. Streams of water flowing below the surface keep it soft and spongy, explained Doug Easthouse, the state park manager for the Big Bog. Such strangely wonderful plants as carnivorous sundew and pitcher plants thrive in this acidic environment, built on many feet of mushy peat. Except for signs of wildlife — the thin watery pathway forged by a river otter, the sunken footprints of moose — the landscape stretches as far as the eye can see. The 500-square-mile bog is the most intact and undisturbed ecosystem in Minnesota.

Tens of thousands of years ago, the area drowned under monstrous Lake Agassiz, which was formed when glaciers flattened the land and then melted. The waters stretched over what is now northern Minnesota, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Settlers hunting for land at the turn of the past century hoped ditches would drain away the moisture so they could farm the rich soil. They gave up, waterlogged and poor.

It is still a watery world.

On the day I visited, a mizzle of rain fell as Easthouse and I clanked our way to the tip of the boardwalk. “It was a long wait up here for spring this year,” he said. “People want to know when to come and see the flowers. I tell them now, quick.”

We wait and wait for the beauties of spring to arrive, but in a day, tender blooms can shrivel and burn.

Driving home in the rain, summer seemed far off. I headed south, past the greening forests of Itasca again, and the blossoming prairies off to the west. Then, just south of Grand Rapids, I turned off the wipers. The sun — with the power to warm the earth, fuel spring’s renewal, coax buds into leaves — peeped out from behind a cloud.


Kerri Westenberg • 612-673-4282 • kwestenberg • Brian Peterson • 612-673-4783 •


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