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Park Point Trail

History of Park Point
It is characteristic of north shore streams to form a sand bar across their mouths as they empty into Lake Superior. Minnesota Point (known as Park Point) at 7 miles in length and neighboring Wisconsin Point at 3 miles form the longest freshwater sand bar in the world. The natural entry to Superior Bay divides the bar on the Wisconsin side and is known as the Superior Entry. The Park Point Ship Canal is the man made access to the bay on the Minnesota side. The combined forces of eroded sand released by the waters of the Nemadji and St. Louis rivers and the wave action of Lake Superior continuously rebuilds the points which shelter the western most harbor of the Great Lakes.

Native Ojibway people made landfall on the points and used them as stopover sites on canoe journeys to the lower lakes. Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut may have been the first European to see Park Point when he landed here in 1679. He was only the first of many explorers, trappers, traders and settlers who passed through here and into the interior of the western territories. Many of those went no farther than Minnesota Point which became a village in 1854 and was not annexed to Duluth until 1889. It has played a vital part in the history of the port.

Prior to the completion of the ship canal in 1871 docks jutted into the lake itself and were vulnerable to the winds and storms of Lake Superior. The 300 foot wide canal gave Duluth access to port traffic which had previously gone first to Superior Wisconsin. Transportation between the Point and Duluth was by ferry and row boat until 1905 when the first Aerial Bridge was constructed. The suspended cable car could carry ten automobiles and foot traffic and required about 10 minutes to make a round trip crossing. The present Lift Bridge was built in 1929 when increased vehicle traffic demanded faster access.

The "Park" on Park Point was developed in the 1930's. This WPA project included the present beach house and playground area. The park has undergone redevelopment and now volley ball courts, softball fields, a boat launch and picnic grounds add to the attraction of this area. Until 1954 the Oatka Boat Club was one of the centers for social gatherings and rowing regattas until the building burned down. Recently the Duluth Rowing Club has constructed a new boathouse at 3900 Minnesota Ave.

Totaling four miles out and back this trail is somewhat of a challenge as about half of it is through the sand at the water's edge. The trail features a variety of plants and trees, some interesting views of the harbor, the remnants of old growth forest and settlers cabins and the site of the original lighthouse at the Superior entry. There is also a white tailed deer herd and it is an unparalleled location for watching nesting shore birds, water fowl and migratory song birds.

Beach plants are an important factor in preventing dune erosion. Most are low growing shrubs or spreading ground cover plants and some are grasses with spreading root systems. Some of the plants which can be identified on Park Point include Beach Pea, which has purple sweet pea like flowers in spring and small pea pods which ripen in the fall, another is Starry False Solomon's Seal a member of the lily family with a small white star shaped flower and blue black berries. Sand Cherry and False Heather are both shrubs which add white and yellow flowers respectively to the spring blooms. There are two evergreen shrubs adding their root systems to the dune preservation. Narrow leaved common Juniper with its berries used to flavor Gin and Bear Berry which is flat leaved with pink, drooping, bell shaped flowers which become scarlet berries favored by black bears

Toward the far end of the point in the meadow area are Common Milkweed and Scouring Rush. Purple umbrels of tiny flowers on the Milkweed attract the Monarch Butterfly which lays its eggs on this plant and on which its green and black stripped caterpillar feeds and forms its chrysalis. Scouring rush is a primitive plant form with neither leaves nor flowers. Grey green and jointed it has a cone like capsule at the tip and releases spores in order to reproduce. It will grow in the poorest soils and even comes up through blacktop pavement. The stems contain silica and were used for scrubbing and scouring.

One plant to beware and aware of is Poison Ivy. It is abundant along the trail and can be identified by its three leaved leaf clusters, white berries and reddish color of the new leaves in spring. All portions of the plant are toxic and long pants are recommended for this trail to avoid accidental contact with it.

Three of the most valuable trees in Minnesota are found here. The remnants of old growth forest here include American Larch also known as Tamarack, Norway or "Red" Pine and White Pine. All are conifers though the Tamarack acts like a deciduous tree and sheds its needles which turn bright gold in the fall. All were part of the great northern forest which was the foundation of the timber and lumber industries at the end of the 19th Century. Some of the mansions built by those "Timber Barons" have become popular attractions of the Duluth tourist industry.

The Tamarack tolerates wet feet and will thrive in low places. A strong straight grained wood it was popular for fence posts, railroad ties and telephone poles. Its needles are short and soft, a pale green in spring and darkening over summer until they fall leaving the small cones on the branches through the winter.

Norway and White Pine yield straight white wood which produced the dimension lumber that built the Midwest. Norway Pine has reddish grey flaky bark and long needles which grow two to a cluster. The cones are round when open and will close up again when wet. White Pine bark is grey black, rough and fissured. Its needles are five to the bundle and the cone is 5 to 6 inches long, slightly curved and each petal is tipped with pitch making it hard to handle without getting all sticky. Few of these trees now reach the mature size of those found on Park Point because of their susceptibility to White Pine Blister Rust. Some of this old growth is estimated to be over 180 years old.

Two other conifers found on the "Point" are Scotch Pine, a European import and "Jack" pine. Both are hardy and can withstand the wild and windy weather at the far end of the sand spit.

Follow Minnesota Avenue through the Park Point Recreation Area to the Sky Harbor Airport and park outside the airport fence. Sky Harbor is the sea plane base from which fishermen bound for the Canadian back country depart. It also caters to private aircraft which prefer to avoid the larger Duluth International Airport.

Most of the first mile of the trail is along the gravel road accessing the two pumping stations which supply Lake Superior water to the town of Cloquet and the City of Superior. At the pumping stations take the right fork of the trail and enter the old growth forest remnant of Red and White Pine which once covered the entire point. On the left are the foundations of some of the cabins built by the original settlers. Further along is an area which was burned in a forest fire in the 1950's. Sometimes new white pine seedlings grow in the burned out pocket of the stump of the old tree. Nearby is the one privately owned cabin still in use on Park Point. No new building permits are issued here.

At about a mile and a quarter, ahead and to your left, is the first view of the Superior Ship Entry. The right hand trail leads to the bay shore and views of the Burlington Northern Ore docks, the largest in the world, the Peavey Company Flour Mill elevators and on the right the Osborne-McMillan grain elevators.

A half a mile further on is the site of the original light house. The 50 foot high tower was build in 1855, was the first high powered light beacon on Lake Superior and cost $13,835.00 to build. In operation for only 20 years its lens came from the Bordeau Company of Paris, France and it is still in use in the light on the west pierhead of the Superior Entry. In 1975 the lighthouse was designated a national historic monument and the base serves as the zero point for survey maps of Lake Superior.

Nearing the end of the "Point" there is an abandoned boat house which formerly housed a small boat and buoy works. The U S Corps of Engineers maintains a dock here used by dredge operators when setting markers. It is also used by pleasure boaters as a tie up for on shore picnics. From the very tip of the point it is only a few hundred feet across the mouth of the bay to Wisconsin Point. Ships from all over the world pass through here hauling grain, ore and coal to the industrial centers on the lower Great Lakes.

For the returning two mile hike the hardy may choose the trail on the lake side. The first stretch is along an old breakwater which entails some rock hopping and the remainder is up the beach through the sand. Here is your opportunity to search for Lake Superior's substitutes for sea shells; sand washed bits of colored glass, agates or pieces of Thompsonite or Ely Greenstone. Or just watch the waves and take in the vastness of this great lake. Those less adventurous hikers can return the way they came and spot the things they missed on the way out.


Park Point Trail

Park Point Trail



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