Discovery Trail Markers
This land, 55 acres, was donated by 4 businessmen “for the enjoyment, pleasure, and benefit of the people of the area” in 1907.
This gate marks the beginning of an adventure.
The trail is wide at the beginning because it was a road at one time. As the park and zoo expanded and improved, the road became a walking path. As you enter the forest think about all the animals and birds that make this woods their home. Please respect them.
At this spot you will find a small grove of paper birch trees. Mingled in this grove are stinging nettles, an oak snag, a pine stump, and a white pine tree. This small grove provides animals and insects with homes and food.
The large tree at this marker is a Red Pine or Norway Pine, Minnesota’s state tree. Red pine can be identified by their two-needle cluster and distinct cones. The needles have a wax coating that helps keep water inside the plant in winter and dry times. The conifer can survive super cold, snowy, and windy weather. A red pine in the prime of its life can produce more than 700 cones in a single year.
Between marker 3 and marker 4 you will find young Red Pine, Colorado Blue Spruce, Quaking Aspen, Sumac, as well as Red Cedar, and another small stand of Paper Birch. This small grove was once overcome with under growth that hindered its’ growth. Through continued tending, the trees now thrive.
Lowlands or wetlands are very important areas in our state. Lowlands provide water to plants, animals, and birds of the forest. It is also home to frogs, toads, salamanders, dragonflies, and mosquitoes, just to name a few. Adult dragonflies are agile aviators, built to chase down and eat other flying insects. Dragonflies are considered the world's best fliers. They are not the fastest, but nothing else can maneuver quite like a dragonfly.
This small grove of trees is a stand of Aspen. An aspen grove looks as if it is made up of separate trees, but the trees usually share a root system. The leaf stalks are flattened instead of round, which causes the leaves to flap and flutter in the wind giving it the name “Trembling or Quaking” Aspen. The aspen is a member of the poplar family that also includes willows and cottonwood. Many animals depend on aspen groves; some eat the twigs and bark including beaver, elk, and deer. Birds such as Chickadees, Swallows, and Nuthatches use aspens as nesting sites, some building on branches, some making cavities in the trees' trunks.
Welcome to the swamp. Wetlands are very important to our plants and animals in MN. Many types of plants grow in our wetlands. This marsh supports Swamp Milkweed, Goldenrod, Cattails, native grasses and other wildflowers. This water-logged desert also supports aquatic plants, zooplankton, worms, insect larvae, and crustaceans. Dragonflies thrive in swamps they benefit from a lack of predators and competition. Because these waters have no fish, aquatic nymphs are safer and have more to eat. They are adapted to living in waters that are low in oxygen, acidic, and shallow enough to freeze all the way to the bottom.
Follow the trail to the right and continue the walk, you will see a carpet of green moss. The damp forest floor supports mosses and lichens that cover forest debris. The dense and twisted brush you see here, and in many spots along the trail, is a shrub called Buckthorn. Buckthorn is an invasive species originating from Europe. It was brought to the US for use in yards as decorative trees. What they didn’t realize is that it multiplies quickly with an underground root and is very difficult to get rid of. With help from the Little Falls Community Schools forestry class, Camp Ripley, city employees, and community members the project has begun. (2016/2017) The hope is that native trees and grasses will once again grow along this trail.
This is the western edge of the park’s 55 acres, 13th Street NW. Stop here and take a few minutes to observe everything around you. You may notice tree snags, these rotting trees are left in or near openings in the woods. There are 39 snag-dependent species of bird, such as red-headed woodpeckers and eastern bluebirds. A soft snag with many cavities supplies 47 different animals with cavities for nesting or protection. Eagles nest in old snags. Snags should be left for wildlife; 60 different species use dead or dying trees as part of their life-support system.
This entrance Red Pine can be recognized by its’ red scaly bark. Look to your right, a small picnic shelter invites you to rest a bit. Beyond that softball filed, a tennis court, a basketball court, and rustic restrooms, invite families to spend time together free of charge.
Seasonal ponds are short-lived wetlands that are formed seasonally in shallow ground depressions from spring snowmelt, precipitation, and rising water tables. Usually they are dry in late summer, these ponds are only temporary woodland reservoirs. They are slightly harder to identify during the summer and fall months; however, there are several clues to look for. Blackened, compressed leaf litter suggest an area that collects water part of the year. Seasonal ponds themselves are generally less than 40 yards in diameter and no more than 4 feet deep. They become the seasonal breeding and feeding grounds for many intriguing amphibians and insects, as well as the reptiles, birds, and mammals that depend on them for food.
The pine carpet, you are walking on, is created by coniferous trees. The trees form an upper canopy causing the lower branches to die and fall off. The shade and the acidity of the pine needles covering the ground result in very little undergrowth. Blueberries, trilliums, and other plants grow in the soil beneath conifer boughs. Fungi grow in conifers roots, and lichens live on their trunks. Wherever they grow, conifers attract animals. Insects eat their needles and burrow under their bark. Nuthatches and squirrels pluck seeds from their cones. Red squirrels hide cones in autumn and eat the seeds later, when fresh food is scarce. Beneath conifer boughs, deer, rabbits, and birds find shelter from wind, rain, and snow.
In 1926, Milton Williams, one of the original zoo donors passed away. Mrs. Williams had a huge boulder moved to the park property. The rock, weighing several tons, was pulled by a team of horses. When the horses could no longer pull it, a gas-powered tractor was brought in to place the rock in its current spot. The plaque reading, “The Lord is thy Keeper, Earth changes, but thy Soul and God stand sure.” was placed on the rock in his honor.
The rock formation deep in the woods is called “council circle.” The fire ring’s granite came from quarries near Freedom, Minn. The same rocks were used for the rock wall bordering the zoo, the hexagonal building at the zoo, and the shelter building near the playground.
“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.”