Sunday, May 21, 2017

Crime Scene on the Mississippi

Last week I volunteered with Big River Journey.  A hundred plus 4th graders boarded one of the Paddleford Boats at Harriet Island for a trip along the Mississippi River.  Kids rotated between 6 stations where they could learn about river navigation, otters, eagles, macro invertebrates, geology, or my station, river trash.  The name crime scene pulls them in of course and they get to dump out bags of trash found in the river and try to figure out how it got there and why it might be bad for it to stay in the river.  Hopefully those kids came away with an understanding of what a storm drain is, maybe how it differs from the sewer system, and just maybe they will remember what a watershed is.  They will probably all remember that they are made up of 60% water and they most likely get their drinking water from the Mississippi River.  When I was out for a walk along Minnehaha Creek days later and saw this storm drain, I thought removing this is easy enough to do.  So do it! Otherwise, it's headed right to the river!

We have had a lot of rain lately and the Creek was really full.  We started our hike at the 46th Street station on the Light Rail Blue Line.  The trail takes you past Lake Hiawatha, Lake Nokomis, and into the neighborhoods of cute homes along the creek.  You could follow the creek all the way to Lake Harriet before heading back north toward downtown Minneapolis.

The creek had a lot of Virginia Waterleaf in bloom as well as Violets and a few Dame's Rockets.  

It's always good to get distracted by a new restaurant along the way and this one is a keeper.  Somewhere into the Lake Nokomis neighborhood is this little gem called Hot Plate. It's breakfast (plus beer) and the food was really great.  I was starving when we got there and the pancakes with lingonberry butter plus chicken fried steak, sausage gravy, eggs, and fried potato was actually way more fuel than what I needed to keep walking.  The restaurant's owners are collectors of old paint-by-number paintings and the weirdness abounds.  Picture an Emmett Kelly's "Weary Willie" next to the Virgin Mary and you get the idea.  Lava lamps and plastic figurines and old 1980's style hand held electronic games add to the decor.  This place is definitely worth the detour off the trail.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge Hike

Is it possible to visit the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington without a car? Yes, I was there last week without the benefit of a car.  From downtown Minneapolis get on the light rail in the direction of the Mall of America and get off at the American Blvd Station just one stop past the Humphrey Airport.  The entrance to the refuge is just a block south of the station.

If you're flying into the Twin Cities you might have noticed the vast wetland along the Minnesota River as you approach the airport.

At the visitor's center turkeys were there to greet us.  They were competing with the squirrels for the bird feeder droppings.  The squirrels were winning.

Some of the trails were a little muddy.  We planned to hike 4 miles in and hopefully get out of the refuge by way of the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge just past the Highway 77 Bridge.  The volunteers in the Visitor's Center were not sure if the Cedar Bridge was open.  Well, if not then it's 4 miles in and 4 miles out or figure out some other creative way to get home.

There were several varieties of violets growing in the shady areas. 

Last year's leftovers are cool to look at too.

The refuge is 14,000 acres of land stretching 70 miles along the Minnesota River.
Eventually, the trail brought us along side the Minnesota River and the Highway 77 Bridge in the distance. When the river floods it brings trash into the refuge.  I picked up a few things and left it along the dirt track for workers to haul out.

When we got under the Highway 77 Bridge there was graffiti.  Doesn't matter how remote the area, there will always be graffiti under bridges. There was a lot of it and here is a sampling of it.

There is, of course, plenty of wildlife in the refuge.  We saw deer, river otters, nesting geese with their young and plenty of turtles.  It was nice to see wood ducks.  Usually, it's just mallards.  If you're a bird watcher bring your binoculars.  I can only identify the obvious cardinals, woodpeckers, grackles, and robins. 

That's the Old Cedar Bridge and our way out of the refuge.  After I got home I read that the bridge will be closed in July for repairs.

This is the view looking back to Bloomington and the office buildings where we got off the light rail.  From here it's a couple miles to the Mall of America. Time for a little shoe shopping and relaxing at one of the many restaurants before getting back on the light rail.