A few years ago, I told my wife I wanted to start grouse hunting again. I hadn’t gone since I was a boy. So, one Easter, she gave me a shotgun. Odd timing, but highly appreciated. A friend of mine pointed me to some trails near his house. Now, if I could just shoot straight.
Last September, I followed my buddy’s directions to the Donald D. Ferguson/Lake County Demonstration Forest northwest of Two Harbors. I parked near a welcoming kiosk next to the Drummond Grade that held informative maps that led me on a self-guided tour. I started a long clockwise trip around the whole trail system. On the Knife River Trail, I flushed a grouse. I found it a second time, flushed it again, and missed it again. I soothed my ego by noticing it sure was a sunny day for a walk.
I recently spoke with Wayne Seidel who works for the University of Minnesota Extension and the Lake County Soil and Water Conservation district. Donald D. Ferguson was a longtime Lake County resident and forester. Wayne said that this “gem of a property” began as Mr. Ferguson’s idea. He pictured a place where people could “really learn about forestry and silviculture.” Beginning in 2001, Wayne worked with a committee of members including Lake County, the DNR, and Louisiana Pacific, among others, to create this example of a working forest that serves many user groups. I called it an “interagency effort” and Wayne agreed, but he gave credit to Mr. Ferguson. A pavilion has been planned near the main trailhead sign, but money has to appear first. School groups of various sizes visit the forest each year and the pavilion could be an outdoor classroom, if it gets built.
Since I’ve walked the trails, Wayne said another half-mile of trail has been added to the system making nearly five miles of walking. The trails are very well signed and easy. I passed a forest opening, a kettle moraine, and then saw the very beginnings of the Knife River. Just a few feet wide, it gurgled through boulders 22 river miles from where it flows into Lake Superior. I crossed back across the Drummond Grade and tramped through a mixed stand of white and Norway pine.
I was daydreaming in a sunlit tunnel of aspen on the Ferguson trail when two grouse rocketed into the air. I don’t think I’d do very well living off the land. The birds lived to fight another day.
The trail still had rewards, though. I found the 1930s homestead of Mr. Pepperlin, made from old recycled timbers from abandoned logging operations. Who says recycling’s a new idea? I sat on a fallen tree by the beaver pond along the Old Camp Trail. I looked up through the pines that populate what used to be an old Duluth and Iron Range Railroad logging camp. Imagine telling a child that the forest he’s standing in used to have steam locomotives running through it 100 years before.
Mr. Ferguson’s vision for these 400 acres has certainly been realized. The headwaters of two rivers, a working gravel pit, a beaver dam, multiple different species of trees including a well-signed and informative trail system. What a great, low-key place for anybody to learn that the forest changes dramatically over time as we harvest its bounty of resources and recreation. I would like to say that I left the ruffed grouse out there on purpose. I really would.
Directions: From Two Harbors go 3 miles north on Hwy 2, left on Hwy 12 for 2.5 miles, right on Holm Road for 0.5 miles, and left on Drummond Grade for 2.5 miles.