It is a story that sounds almost too good to be true, one that could be the subject of a novel or film. I first heard about this place when I visited the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness a few years back and it lives up to its mysterious name; a place that both naturalists and historians alike will enjoy. Take a step back in time to discover an ancient world immersed in the pine forests of Northern Minnesota.
Eastern White Pine
The eastern white pine is a staple of the coniferous forests ranging from the Appalachians in the Northeast all the way to the Midwestern forests of Northern Minnesota. While dwarfed by California’s Redwoods, the eastern white pine has been measured at heights of upwards to 200ft, sadly, with all such specimens cut down due to logging. While this tree can tolerate most soil conditions, for a tree to grow to that size, however, the soil must be the perfect combination of acidic, moist, and well drained. It is for this reason that the 350-year-old white pines in the “Lost Forty” are only 130ft tall (still a very impressive height) yet some of the oldest of its kind in existence. What is the Lost Forty and why have trees here outlived their cross-country counterparts?
Roughly 70 miles from Itasca State Park, the home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, lies a 40-acre plot of virgin forest among the nation’s largest expanse of natural peatland. In a landscape filled with billions of trees, it is part of only a small percentage that can be dubbed “old-growth” or relatively undisturbed. While much of the landscape was surveyed and auctioned off to logging companies in the late 1800’s, this parcel was left untouched. It is a claim not even the Boundary Waters can boast, so why did this tract of land escape the axe?
When surveying the land to be auctioned off to loggers (each plot measured and sold in 40-acre sections) surveyors mistook this tract of land for one previously recorded. This kept it undiscovered and protected as the rest of the landscape was cut down. Later, settlers tried to drain the wetlands and cut down the forest in the hopes of establishing a farming community. This effort was to no avail and acted as a safeguard until a mid-1900’s survey “discovered” the forest and declared it a public land off limits to logging or mining activities. Today, this old-growth forest contains trees older than the United States that reach heights of up to 130ft. Go check it out yourself and see what it feels like to travel back in time.