Minnesota River Valley: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Part III

Encyclopedic readers will recall that back in April 2012 I announced that My wife and I were on a quest to explore the labyrinth of soft-surface trails within the Minnesota River Valley. The valley has always intrigued me because it’s a mile-wide swath of undeveloped space full of wetlands, the river, lakes, and power plants. Pretty much every branch of the government at all levels that has anything to do with parks, trails, or wildlife has their fingers in this valley in one form or another. You can read about our other attempts to explore the valley here.

Here’s where we walked:

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I learned from the internet that the specific trail we walked is called the Bluff Trail. We started at the Old Cedar Avenue trailhead and walked west for about 1.5 miles and back for a 3 mile round trip.

OK, now for some pics. It was a grey (yes I spell it with an “e” because it looks greyer) day, and I loved the views out across Long Meadow Lake of the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge and the Black Dog Power Plant.

Old Cedar Avenue Bridge

Old Cedar Avenue Bridge

Black Dog Power Plant

Black Dog Power Plant

The trail was pretty cool. It’s marked NO BIKING ON TRAIL, but clearly people are biking on it. I was wondering if we would encounter any bikes down there, and if so, if it was ok for people to walk down there as well or if the mountain bikers were a bit territorial about the space. We encountered one bike. He did not show much interest in slowing down as he passed me and my children on the narrow trail corridor, but he also did not punch me in the gut or anything like that.

NO BIKES ALLOWED

NO BIKES ALLOWED

Anyway, here’s a bunch of pictures of me and my kids and the trail.

Cool boardwalk out into the lake.

Cool boardwalk out into the lake.

Some dumb trail.

Some dumb trail.

Co-Captain and Chief Lieutenant Scribe.

Co-Captain and Chief Lieutenant Scribe.

I love crunching through leaves on the ground.

I love crunching through leaves on the ground.

Me and my co-pilot.

Me and my co-pilot.

This is a weird bridge or boardwalk thing.

This is a weird bridge or boardwalk thing.

This boardwalk thing is awesome.

This boardwalk thing is awesome.

Well, we only made it out into the valley once in 2013. Maybe we’ll try again next year.

Minnesota River Valley: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Part II

This past weekend, Mel and I decided to continue our exploration by foot of the Minnesota River Valley. This time, we found a new part of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MVNWR) to stomp through, although, still within the Long Meadow Lake Unit Park (same as last time). This time, we started at the MVNWR headquarters building in Bloomington near the Mall of America, where the Fish & Wildlife service has a pretty substantial building, which includes a neat overlook platform.

Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge

Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center

Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge Overlook Platform

Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge Overlook Platform

Here’s a map of our route for the day, a total of just over 4 miles. We had wanted to walk all the way to TH-77 and back, but only made it to the part of the trail we referred to as “the nipple”.


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This trail is pretty cool, and is a nice, easy walk. For the most part, we didn’t see anyone else there the entire time. Most of the people we saw were on Mountain Bikes. Here’s some pics.

Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge - cool trail, huh?

Prairie & Bloomington

Weirdos

Our Chief Navigation Officer was easily distracted by string cheese.

That's the Minnesota River in the Background.

Awww...

Ok, that’s it. If it would stop raining this weekend, we’d go walk the rest of the trail. Next time, we’ll start at TH-77 and work our way back to “the nipple”.

Minnesota River Valley: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Part I

One of the goals my wife and I have set for ourselves is to explore the Minnesota River Valley as it passes through the Metro Area. It’s a pretty large area – the green space surrounding the river is a mile wide in places, and if I include everything between US-169 and the airport, there’s a lot of ground to cover.

I’m pretty familiar with Fort Snelling State Park, but there’s also a couple of National Wildlife Refuges in there, as well as dozens of parks owned by Bloomington and Eden Prairie. Some of the trails meander continuously throughout all of them, though, so it can be tough to know exactly who owns what down there. And that’s just the Hennepin County side of the river. The Dakota County side is equally complex, I’m sure.

Our first exploration started at the Old Cedar Avenue Trailhead. We followed the path northeast for about a mile and a half, past the old gravel pits to the Bloomington Bass Ponds. I’m about 80% sure that our entire trip was contained within the Long Meadow Lake Unit Park, part of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.


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Here’s some photos of the afternoon hike:

Before heading out, KP and I made sure to double-check our provisions. I required soda; her, puffy rice snacks.

Vision. Determination.

We were hoping we would be able to go out onto the Old Cedar Avenue bridge. We knew it was “closed”, but closed and “closed” are two different things. There were actually people out on the bridge – you could get around the fences, but it required a little bit more scrambling than I was comfortable with doing with KP strapped to my chest.

Old Cedar Avenue Bridge - Closed.

The trails could accommodate only the toughest of travelers. Benches were scarce, requiring nearly a quarter mile trek between sitting opportunities.

Bench.

KP loves bridges!

Infrastructure! TH-77.

My sturdy travel companion. She is an extraordinarily hardy and capable outdoorsperson, other than the fact that her socks keep falling off.

Travel Companions.

Pretty nice views of Long Meadow Lake.

Long Meadow Lake.

KP, emboldened by her first successful venture into the vast uncharted Minnesota River Valley, tried to ride home without a car seat facing forward. Not so fast, kid.

She's laughing because she's about to pull off one of her socks and stuff it in her mouth. Typical KP.

Ever explored the Minnesota River Valley? What’s your favorite part?