A group of hikers spent last Tuesday evening on the Lost Creek Hiking Trail, observing the trail's maintenance and wildlife along the trail.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
A group of hikers spent last Tuesday evening on the Lost Creek Hiking Trail, observing the trail's maintenance and wildlife along the trail. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Last Tuesday evening, July 23, the Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District and the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society joined forces to lead a forestry field tour through Lost Creek Hiking Trail near Chatfield.

Landowner Tim Gossman led a group of hikers down into the verdant valley that his acreage encompasses. He said the tour's purpose was to share information on forestry practices with people who would like to do similar projects on their farm. It was also designed to share information with those who are concerned with providing good habitat for wildlife.

"It also provided an opportunity for observing birds and other wildlife," said Gossman.

Approximately 30 hikers gathered at the end of the trail on farmland owned by Bill Bailey and his brother, Steve, to trek through the woods and across streams, inspecting trees and listening for wildlife.

Gossman and fellow landowners Bill and Steve, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forester Jim Edgar and private forester Mitch Gilbert led tours on the six-mile-long trail. The tour participants broke into two groups, and the hike to the creek valley was about two miles. The hike through the upland forest was slightly shorter.

According to Gossman, hikers noticed the impacts of good forest management and good harvest practices, both financially and on the health of the forest and the birds and other wildlife that live there.

Gossman observed that the tour had a purpose, no matter which group a hiker chose to join, and that he enjoys leading the hike for numerous reasons. He feels it's important because it fosters sharing information on forestry, conservation and wildlife.

"It also lets folks know that there are resources available to them through their local Soil and Water Conservation District, DNR forester and Natural Resources Conservation Service," he said.

Gossman said he felt there was a good exchange of information. "People learn about the projects that have been done and share information from their experiences," he explained. "The Audubon members shared their knowledge of birds that they were seeing and hearing at each stop along the tour - the Audubon members spotted or heard many birds, including a red-headed woodpecker. Red-headed woodpeckers are much less common than they used to be, and one was seen perched in a dead tree that the Baileys had left in the forest as wildlife habitat."

Upon their return to the trail's beginning, hikers enjoyed a picnic of hot dogs, chips and ice cream from Kappers' Big Red Barn.

Forestry was the true focus of the evening, though the birders did see the winged friends they sought, as the trail features habitat trees, native grasses and flowers, unpastured and untilled woodland, seedling plantings, cottonwood and willow pole plantings, and direct tree seeding techniques.

"Our area has many acres of unmanaged forest and open areas that are not used for crops or pasture that could be better managed to provide wildlife habitat and financial return for landowners," Gossman said. "Reforesting these areas can be cost effective in the long run."

Regarding forestry practices, he advised, "Take the long view. With forestry, much of the labor and expense to manage your forest or reforest underutilized areas of your farm is short term, while the benefits are substantial, but years in the future."

Gossman noted that while the hike was a success once more, "It can be difficult for some folks to attend the SWCD Forestry Field Tour, as it only happens once a year. The Fillmore SWCD has worked with the Bluff Country Hiking Club to make the Lost Creek Hiking Trail into an 'ongoing field trip' by placing 31 signs near forestry practices and features along the trail. The SWCD forestry brochure, available at the trailheads, provides a map, basic information on these practices and a link to more detailed information on the SWCD website. In this way, people can hike the trail at any time and learn about forestry and conservation practices that landowners are doing along the trail."

The Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District is available to assist with tree sales, windbreaks and technical assistance at (507) 765-3878, ext. 3, or online at www.fillmoreswcd.org, and the Minnesota DNR Forestry Division provides help with forestry stewardship plans and technical assistance at (651) 259-5830, or online at www.dnr.state.mn.us/forestry/index.html.

The Bluff Country Hiking Club's information is available online at www.bluffcountryhikingclub.org.