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Explore wilderness at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge hosts over 14 miles of the North Country National and Scenic Trail.

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Hikers walk the North Country Trail through Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.
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One of the truly special outdoor places in our area is Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.

It covers over 40,000 acres and features diverse habitat for wildlife.

It also hosts over 14 miles of the North Country National and Scenic Trail (NCT).

A hiker can pause and reflect about those who have gone before on these trails. The Anishinabe people used these footpaths for travel between lakes while hunting, fishing, wild ricing, collecting sap and berry picking.

Another group that made use of trails in Tamarac in the late 1800s were the loggers that prized the red and white pines that grew in abundance and were logged and sent down the waterways to the sawmill in Frazee.

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Early pioneers tried farming in this area, but found poor soil. The NCT crosses several of these old farm fields.

Other groups that used and constructed some of the early trails were the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and the young men involved in the Job Corps Center located in the refuge in the 1960s.

The Laurentian Lakes Chapter worked in 2012 and 2013 to construct new trails as well as using some of the existing trails for the NCT route. Impressive is a 1,200-foot-long puncheon over a spruce bog area and a 1,900-foot-long causeway near the shores of Tamarac Lake built to protect cultural resources.

Besides history, a hiker is filled with a sense of awe at the wildness these trails offer. Though not true wilderness, the pristine lakes, unspoiled wetlands and forested areas give a hiker a sense of what this area looked like 100 years ago.

As this refuge was established as a breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife in 1938, it stands to reason that visitors today are often on the lookout to see or hear some of the many species. Hikers have encountered swans, ospreys, eagles and have heard ruffed grouse, many species of warblers and the eerie call of the loons.

In addition, we see the signs of bear, wolf, and beaver activity near the trail.

Hikes during any one of the four seasons can offer something special. In winter, while on snowshoes, many animal tracks can be identified. Spring and summer hikes feature identifying numerous wildflowers and the changing canopy. Autumn is filled with the contrasting colors and sounds of waterfowl beginning their migration.

It doesn’t matter how many times one hikes these trails, as there is always something new to experience and appreciate in nature.

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If you go

Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge is located 18 miles north east of Detroit Lakes. The visitor center is at 35704 County Hwy. 26, Rochert, Minn. Call to see if the visitor center is open at 218-847-2641.

The hiking trails are open during daylight hours and can be accessed at the visitor center, Pine Lake Trailhead, Old Indian Trailhead, Black Bird Drive, and 400th Ave.

Karen Stenberg is a member of the Laurentian Lakes Chapter of the North Country Trail Association

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