STOP 3: EARLY SETTLERS ROAD
Today, the country in and around the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area (NBWA) contains many miles of drivable roads. These roads provide easy access for timber management, recreation, sightseeing, and fire protection. We are used to this good access and tend to take it for granted, but a century ago these roads were non-existent. At that time, access was limited to either canoeing the nearby Namekagon River, or following a two rut wagon trail through the landscape.
In front of you is the route that immigrants took through this country from Fort Snelling to areas north and east of here, including to a pioneer community that is located on the North Unit. Travelers crossed the St. Croix River by ferry at a site located in Sterling Township in northwest Polk County, Wisconsin. They traversed the South Unit on the ridge north of where you stand now, and traveled northeast to the Namekagon River where they could cross at a shallow water site.
The sandy soils of this region recover very slowly from any form of disturbance. Attempts to farm some of the land show rectangular grass fields nearly a century later. Tree planting operations leave furrows that will still be visible decades from now. The wagon trail of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is readily visible across the South Unit immediately after a prescribed burn because the vegetation on the packed earth frequently doesn’t burn – leaving a distinct wagon path across the burned prairie. Shortly thereafter, regrowth of the vegetation causes the trail to disappear once again.