The Lost Forty

Today I visited a rare patch of old growth forest in northern Minnesota called the Lost Forty. It was accidentally created in 1882 when a survey team led by Josiah King were surveying townships in the pine forests north of Grand Rapids. As the story goes, by late November the men were beset by snow squalls as they tried to complete their work. They inadvertently plotted Coddington Lake as beginning at the smaller body of water now called Dishpan Lake. By drawing the area of the lake much larger than it actually was, the surveyors made a stand of pine “invisible” to timber cruisers. It was never cut, and the white and red pines on the parcel were preserved.

There isn’t a lot of old growth forest left, especially in Minnesota where old-growth represents less than a quarter of one percent of the state’s forests. The Lost Forty has been designated as a protected “Scientific and Nature Area” and offers a rare glimpse at the ecosystem of the old forests that used to cover most of the north. The big trees in this section are reported to be between 300 and 400 years old. These were the types of trees that were prized by the lumber industry.

I was surprised at the roughly equal balance of red and white pines. If anything, there are more large red pines, although the biggest white pines are larger and appear a bit older than the reds (but I’m not an expert about tree ages, so I may be wrong). There were also lots of little balsam firs in the understory, and several stands of really tall, old balsams – along with one that had recently blown over but was still alive, showing how healthy the upper parts of these trees are. There were also some very old, tall “popple” trees, and a few maples and birches beginning to leaf out in the understory.

The Lost Forty is about an hour northeast of Bemidji. It was a pleasant morning drive and a quiet walk through the woods. Interesting to imagine lumberjacks coming to places like this in the middle of winter, to cut trees and stack them by the little stream to wait for spring.  

(images by Dan Allosso, 5/20/2020 CC-BY-SA)