Yesterday we drove up to the pine barrens, a wild and beautiful place in northern Burnett County that sand and fire helped create. When I see the barrens, I feel as though I'm looking into the past, and, of course, I also see a heavenly place for wildflowers.
Here's how "the barrens" began:
When the last glaciers were melting ten thousand years ago, rivers poured from them and dumped and sorted quartz sand over a million acres of northwestern Wisconsin. Today people call this million-acre swath of sand the Northwest Sands Ecological Area, or Northwest Sands for short. Today's pine barrens (and by the way, Lake 26) lie in the middle of this big swath of sand.
As the ice disappeared, trees like pines and oaks started to move in, but wildfires frequently swept across the land and the native Americans who eventually settled in the area probably also set fires to promote game and berry habitat. This created a savannah-type landscape in some areas. When federal government surveyors came through in the 1850s they described the landscape in northwestern Wisconsin (including the area around our lake) as "barrens," that is, relatively bare of trees.
Wildflowers love the barrens. Phlox (pink) and wood betony (yellow) were blooming this week.
The state of Wisconsin owns about 6,000 acres of pine barrens near the Namekagon River and maintains the brush prairie ecosystem with regular prescribed fires. Below is a photo of a patch the state burned a few years ago. The burned area is to the left of the road.
If you're interested in visiting the barrens, here are directions:
From Danbury, WI:
1. Hwy 35 north to Hwy 77; turn right or east on Hwy 77 to Namekagon Rd 13.6 miles
2. Turn left or north on Namekagon Trail Rd and cross the Namekagon River and drive up Namekagon Trail Rd to St. Croix Trail 5.9 miles
3. Turn right on St. Croix Trail
4. Turn left on Dry Landing Road and the barrens are to your right.
And here's a link to a map of the barrens:
For more information about the barrens, contact the Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area. Here's a link to their website: http://www.fnbwa.org/newhome
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