I took my dogs Jet and Annie for an evening walk down to Paint Mine Road this week. I will be leading a wildflower walk there in a few weeks and wanted to see if anything was growing yet. I really did not expect to see much, if any, floral activity, but I was in need of some “me” time in the woods and it was a pleasant hike.
The trail at Paint Mine Road begins by going downhill around the north side of a knoll, with a pond down the steep hillside below the trail. I would recommend not taking the north trail down for another few days until the large patch of ice melts away from the trail lest someone ends up sliding down into the pond (there’s another trail on the south side of the knoll that joins the north trail on the other side of the hill.)
Other than this small and quickly waning ice patch, the trail at Paint Mine Road is an easy walk, and slopes gradually down the hillside to the St. Croix River. The ground was clear along the trail in most places with little to no ice or snow left on the trail.
Paint Mine Road is so named for a copper paint mine that operated in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The ruins of the mine operation are still there, including a huge water wheel, wooden bricks, a stone stairway going up the center of the hill, iron pipe, and a rock wall. They provide interest in the otherwise drab landscape of early spring.
The trail crosses a bridge over one creek that comes from the south side of the trail and runs into the main creek (that the mine is on) on the north side of the trail. Just beyond the bridge is a flat wet area where dozens of skunk cabbage grow.
I ventured into the seep to see if any were starting to come up, and found only one brave spathe rising through the muck.
There will be more soon. I promise.
The trail then progresses along the floodplain of the river that will, in a couple weeks, be filled with gorgeous spring wildflowers such as trout lily, wild ginger, violets, bloodroot, hepatica, spring beauty, and early meadow rue, to name a few, as well as a few varieties of ferns and many other lovely plants. As of now, it appears to be a wasteland of decaying leaves. But there is great beauty waiting beneath that rich fertile soil.
Despite the lack of herbal efflorescence, there were many interesting things to see and photograph; remnant berries from a blue cohosh plant, evergreen rattlesnake plantain leaves, shelf fungi growing on a decaying paper birch log, river birch roots twining around each other above the soil line, and a portrait of the last remnants of fall and winter – fallen leaves encased in ice. Even some porcupine poop to add interest and an additional layer of texture.
All in all it was a enjoyable walk down the paint mine. And of course, I got to visit my favorite giant white pine tree along the way still standing as a quiet and towering sentinel of the forest.