North Twin Lake
Add up the numbers on the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail
Seven lakes, 12 points of interest, nine rest stops and 14 miles to explore.
Joan Fogelberg and Bill Zager
Thereís a trail gem in western Wisconsin that is nearing its third anniversary. Located on an abandoned railroad bed, the 14-mile packed limestone surface on the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail extends from the Soo Line Park in Amery to the Lotus Lake County Park in Osceola. From there itís a short hop to the Gandy Dancer Trail, Interstate Park with camping, and the Polk County Visitor Center where a variety of information and maps are available for the area.
To get the numbers to add up, the Friends of Stower Seven Lakes State Trail (dedicated to its vision of "Creating, promoting and preserving the best-loved non-motorized state trail in Wisconsin") have worked tirelessly to improve the trail, developing nine rest stops, 12 points of interest with signage and benches with a view.
Trail scenery on the Stower is magnificent! Variety is evident from one mile post to the next as one passes seven lakes, a variety of woodlands, prairie, wetlands and an assortment of wildlife and flowers, some rare.
In fall the colors are blazing, winning the Friends of Wisconsin State Parksí Gold Seal Award in 2011 for Best Fall Colors. The call of an eagle soaring above or the sudden splash of a turtle are not uncommon sounds and migrating birds abound.
In the winter months when the mornings are covered in frost, a lone walker and dog can take in the first light before the start of another day. Nature lovers and photographers also visit the trail for its unique birds, wildlife and vegetation recognizing that each season has its own beauty.
Four seasons of invitation bring folks for a variety of activities. The trail is open for walking, biking, cross-county skiing and snowshoeing and is welcoming to people of all ages and abilities, particularly for its level terrain and easy on off access. During the spring and summer months and well into fall, biking is the most popular activity. And, itís not unusual to see a parent pushing a stroller or pulling a burley. In the heat of day, a welcome shaded bench is a great place to quench the thirst and have a snack or even lunch.
Once it snows the trail beckons skiers and snowshoers. And often into the night a headlamp lights the way for the extra hardy. With the exception of walking, these winter activities require snow and during the most recent winter months there has been adequate snow for grooming trails in two directions. The center of the trail is reserved for snowshoeing and walking. This is the time of year to take in the quiet pristine beauty.
Mileposts mark the way for the 14-mile stretch. Beginning in Amery to milepost three, depending on the season, leatherback turtles, columbine and rose pagonia orchid may be seen.
Sandhill cranes, coyotes and Blandingís turtles have been spotted between mileposts 3-7 and from mileposts 7-11 there is butterfly weed, railroad information, wild berries and a floating bog.
Near the Lotus Lake trailhead beginning at milepost 13 there are eagles, snapping turtles, warblers, a tamarack swamp and the lotus flower (Nelumbo lutea) found in only a few lakes in Wisconsin.
The area between mileposts 3-4 is some of the richest native prairie in Polk County. The Friends undertook a prairie restoration project and planted 7,000 plugs of 33 species of native flowers and grasses in the Deronda area, which was previously cleared of rocks, invasive plants and debris.
Friendsí sponsored events throughout the year draw folks who enjoy competitions and good old time gatherings. In June, the Bike Ride and Nature Walk event is held during Amery Trail Days drawing local folks and some from out of state.
During the previous event a couple came from Coon Rapids, Minnesota. He has biked thousands of miles on various trails and she follows by van meeting him in a nearby town.
The Seven Lakes Triathlon event also occurs in June and consists of three segments: a 16-mile bike ride, a 3.5-mile canoe/kayak paddle and a 3.1-mile run on the trail.
Come October, the Changing Colors Ride ties in with Oktoberfest held in Wanderoos.
January brings the Candlelight Cross-county ski event. Winter is the perfect time of year to gather with family, friends and neighbors to venture out after dark and experience the lights. Luminaries light the way for two miles on the trail from Soo Line Park pavilion in Amery to County Road C. Visitors bring supper or snacks and sit at tables under the pavilion while enjoying a hot chocolate or cider served up by the Friends near a warming fire.
No matter what time of year, the trail invites and it never disappoints.
In addition to the trailheads at Soo Line Park and Lotus Lake County Park, parking and rest areas are in Deronda, Wanderoos and Nye with restrooms generally open from May to October.
No need to pack a lunch either, as adjacent to the trail, there is a restaurant in Wanderoos, formerly a school from 1909-1967. Or, purchase food and beverages at a convenience store in Nye. The towns of Amery, Osceola, Dresser and St. Croix Falls also offer many eateries.
Trail operation is unique. A tri-party agreement with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Polk County Parks and Recreation and the Friends provides guidelines for trail maintenance and improvements. The Friends of Stower Seven Lakes State Trail participate on a volunteer basis and provide additional support through donations, grants and limited reimbursements from state trail passes.
Membership consists of a board of directors, trail volunteers who help maintain the trail and make improvements, and members who contribute by paying dues and promoting trail use.
In return, members take great joy in seeing young children riding their bicycles, walkers with their dogs, bird watchers with their binoculars and those on the trail who enjoy winter activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
To visit the trail is to take in beauty and solitude and reflect on the areaís history.
Imagine the days when Wisconsin was covered with glaciers leaving a legacy of lakes and valleys. The area became settled and the Chippewa appreciated the beauty and natural abundance as they settled along the lakes and built their villages and raised their children.
History later records the coming of eastern settlers and the changes they made as the modern march of civilization made its way westward. Soon, the first railroads plied their way from St. Paul and subsequently the line ran between Dresser and Amery and to Sault Ste. Marie.
The railroads began to lose favor when highways and trucks took over most of the burden of hauling goods. Railroad tracks that had been so vital earlier were then removed leaving a perfect place to connect people in new ways. After many years of study, meetings and conversation, the abandoned railroad had a new identity.
And, as you reflect on the past history of the trail, think about the future of the trail. One day, it will be connected to the Gandy Dancer trail. How many ideas and dreams will come to those who are able to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and meander down one of the best-loved trail in Wisconsin?
Bill Zager is president of Friends of Stower Seven Lakes State Trail.
Joan Fogelberg is a member/volunteer of the Friends group.