Yellow Bass of the Fairmont Chain

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I was on the phone last night with an old Minnesota fisherman. He asked if I’d done anything interesting lately. I said, “See if you can guess. What are yellow with black markings, plentiful, and taste good when they’re battered and fried?”

“Bananas.” 

“Yeah, well, okay….here’s another hint: they wiggle and flop when you throw them on the ice next to your sled.”

“Puppies?”

“What? No! I’m talking about yellow bass.”

“Huh. Never heard of ‘em.”

No kidding. 

Continue reading “Yellow Bass of the Fairmont Chain”

Minnesota Camping Online Resources

Camping on our public lands is not limited to state park campgrounds. Far from it. And that’s a good thing, because those campgrounds can get a lot of traffic. Trying to find information on camping opportunities across all the state and federal lands can be real work. Below are links to online resources I’ve found…so far. The more I look, the more I find. This is good news to those who wish to utilize our public lands to the fullest. But as always, wise and ethical use is crucial for ensuring these opportunities exist for years to come. Now get outside! 

State Agency Resources

Minnesota State Parks offer an incredible diversity of camping experiences, including drive-in sites, backpacking sites, cabins, lodges, yurts, tipis, and more. 

State Parks

MN state statute 6100.1250, Subparts 1 and 3

State Forests have developed campgrounds, and also allow dispersed camping for those who know the rules. 

State Forests

MN state statute 6100.1250, Subparts 2 and 3

Wildlife Management Area camping is not allowed in most cases, but some primitive sites are available on large, more remote WMA lands. Call area wildlife management offices to determine availability and location. 

Wildlife Management Areas   

-MN state statute 6230.0250, Subpart 7: “A person may not camp on or remain in a vehicle overnight in any wildlife management area, except by permit or where posted for this use…”

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is under federal supervision within the Superior National Forest, but the State of Minnesota has, interestingly, passed laws pertaining thereto. 

MN state statute, Chapter 6140 

Federal Agency Resources

Chippewa National Forest has developed campgrounds, backcountry sites, and dispersed camping

Chippewa National Forest camping page

Superior National Forest has cabins, campgrounds (developed and rustic), backcountry, wilderness, and dispersed camping

Superior National Forest camping page

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a unique wilderness experience, open mostly to canoeing and backpacking. Permits are required, and necessary to maintain the wilderness for all visitors. 

BWCA page 

National Wildlife Refuges don’t generally allow camping.  

Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge allows what is essentially dispersed camping, with some restrictions.  

 

 

 

Dispersed Camping in Minnesota

 

When you think of camping, do you think of campgrounds? I’m sure most people do. When I’m going somewhere and plan on camping, I usually look to see where the nearest campgrounds are and how close they are to my planned activities. The thing is, if there is state or federal forest land available, you can probably take advantage of a kind of freestyle camping, which offers much more flexibility and is free of charge. It’s called “dispersed” camping, and most people don’t even know about it. 

Dispersed camping, in a nutshell, is camping anywhere you like, so long as you observe a few reasonable rules. I have been taking advantage of this allowance in the last few years, and it has added much value and convenience to my hunting and fishing excursions. 

Now, dispersed camping usually doesn’t get much more than a mention in the lists of rules for users of state and national forests. Unless you dig around a bit, you may not know what is allowed and what is not. Fortunately, there isn’t much to know. The following is a summary of what I believe are the most important considerations; follow links to find information that is most location-specific and most complete. 

Dispersed Camping in Minnesota’s State Forests

Let’s begin with Minnesota’s state forests, because rules and terminology are uniform across the state system. “Dispersed Camping” is defined as “camping overnight outside of established campgrounds or designated campsites.” The following is my summary of the rules. In the interest of being thorough, read the full state statute and consult the rules for each state forest unit to check for special conditions. 

The first and most important rule is probably that dispersed camping is not allowed “within one mile of a fee campground,” nor is it allowed where “posted or designated to prohibit camping.”  This is not usually a problem, because state forest campgrounds are typically few and far between. Also forbidden while dispersed camping are digging, constructing “permanent camping structures,” and placing “wood, nails, screws, or other fasteners in a living tree at a campsite.” Also, human waste must be buried “at least 150 feet from a water body, in a manner that does not endanger a water supply.”

What is allowed includes gathering firewood, as long as it is dead and on the ground, and used while camping in that location. Campers may also stay in one location for up to 14 days “from the first Saturday in May to the second Sunday in September,” and 21 days during the rest of the year. When you leave, however, you must move to a new location “at least 15 miles from the previous camp.”

Dispersed Camping in Minnesota’s National Forests

When it comes to gathering and assessing information from the Forest Service’s website(s), terminology can stand in the way of the user. Minnesota has two National Forests: Chippewa and Superior. Their uses of the term “dispersed camping” and others differ, however, dispersed camping is still available. 

Superior National Forest’s website is informative and well-organized when it comes to camping information, stating, “Types of camping include Campground Camping, Dispersed Camping, RV camping, and Wilderness Camping.” Each type is given a separate web page, and information is laid out logically. They also offer a “Camping Recreational Opportunity Guide,” a 4-page document that displays camping opportunities with helpful maps and charts. At the bottom of the document is the section on dispersed camping. 

It defines Dispersed Camping as “camping outside of designated sites,” which is the simplest and most widely accepted definition of dispersed camping. The relatively few rules pertaining to dispersed camping are also spelled out plainly: be aware of fire restrictions, do not park in a way that will impede traffic or damage vegetation or soil, no digging or cutting live trees, and generally follow the Leave No Trace principles. 

Chippewa National Forest’s website, on the other hand, can leave you guessing with regard to terminology. This is puzzling to me, because in my experience national forests and grasslands have all used camping terms in ways that align with Superior N.F. Why “the Chip” should be any different is still unknown to me. I have made the following table to compare terms. 

National Forest Camping terminology

What Superior calls “Fee Campgrounds,” Chippewa calls “Developed Campgrounds.” No big deal, really. But what Superior calls “Backcountry Campsites,” (single designated sites without facility beyond fire ring and pit toilet), Chippewa seems to call “Backcountry,” “Dispersed,” and even “Primitive” campsites. Yes, it seems all three terms are used interchangeably. Not only does it use “dispersed” for some designated sites— which in itself is a departure from the accepted meaning of the term— it doesn’t seem to even acknowledge the possibility of camping apart from designated areas. 

I called Ken at the Forest Service office in Blackduck for some clarification. I explained the problems with terminology on Chippewa’s website, and its failure to even mention camping outside designated sites (with any term attached). He assured me that “…any place you decide to camp that’s not in a designated campground” is allowed, except in any location where posted signs prohibit. That is the rule basically anywhere else, so it was good to hear even though finding it in print/digital is presently difficult to impossible. When he added, “You can camp anywhere on this forest,” I was satisfied. 

Conclusions

Dispersed camping is a useful recreational tool that every outdoor-oriented person should be aware of. As I’ve stated before, it can add convenience and cost savings to outings, especially when pursuits take us far from cities or campgrounds. With millions and millions of acres of state and federal lands available in Minnesota for hunting, fishing, foraging, camping, trail riding, and more, the opportunities for dispersed camping can influence and improve the way we plan our outdoor adventures. 

Minnesota State Forests and our two National Forest Service entities allow dispersed camping with relatively few restrictions. As always, the onus is on the user to find and understand information and applicable rules, whether they be system wide, location specific, or temporary. Dispersed camping may be an under-utilized resource, but it is conceivable that misuse, especially by large numbers of users, could decrease or eliminate dispersed camping on our public lands. 

 

 

 

Willow River Campground

Willow River Campground

The Willow River Campground in General C.C. Andrews State Forest is a well-maintained state forest campground, typified by gently used campsites in a wooded setting set well apart from each other. From fully shaded campsites in the woods to fairly open sites overlooking the reservoir (river bottom) area, to a couple of carry-in sites and a nicely-kept group camp, there is probably something here to suits anybody’s needs. At 38 individual campsites, this campground is on the larger side for state forest campgrounds. 

Parking for all sites is back-in; none are pull-through. Sites 1-9 and 33-38 have shorter driveways and steep angles, which might not be good for backing trailers- especially large ones- but most of the rest have longer driveways and gentler angles of approach for parking tow-behind rigs or boats. There are also several auxiliary parking areas scattered throughout the campground, perhaps to allow campers with a trailer in the short sites to park their vehicles elsewhere. 

The self-registration station is in the middle of the large camp loop on the left side, near site 20. Water is available by hand pump. There are ample vault toilets and water pumps available: between sites 5 and 34 (also close to 6 and 33) and near site 20 (also close to 21 and 30). There is also another pair of vault toilets tucked out of sight near site 38 (also close to 12 and 13). 

To get to the campground, you have to find your way through Willow River to the frontage road along the west side of Interstate 35 going north. There is one sign pointing the way from Highway 61, but it was not very reflective in the dark and I almost missed it. At any rate, if you get to Doe Street heading east, you will find the way. 

At less than 8,000 acres, General C.C. Andrews State Forest is certainly not one of the larger state forests in Minnesota. Hunters looking to roam will not find much contiguous forest land there that has not been fragmented by roadways or OHV trails. If, however, you are looking for a recreation area friendly to ATVs and off-highway motorcycles with easy access to an interstate highway, this is an obvious destination. Additionally, I know CC Andrews to be a first-rate destination for summer berry picking and camping, and a convenient distance from the Twin Cities area. 

A note about the river (former lake): Willow River Campground is surrounded on three sides, more or less, by the former Stanton Lake. The nearby Willow River dam washed out in the summer of 2016, leaving behind just the river and old river channels. There is a boat ramp in the campground, but it currently just goes down into a large dense area of cattails.

The Campsites

Sites 1, 2, 3, and 4 are situated in a white pine plantation. Well-shaded and fairly flat, they are shorter sites (more typical of state forest campgrounds) that will probably present difficulty when it comes to backing in long trailers. 

Sites 5, 6, 9, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 are set in an aging spruce plantation, which appears to have been selectively logged in recent years. As such, they will receive a fair amount of sun through the course of the day; some will be shaded only at the very beginning and end of the day. As small-to-average sites, they are probably best suited to hosting a single tent. 

Willow River Campground

Sites 7 and 8 are the carry-in sites, just a short walk from the parking area along the camp road. Both are considerably more secluded than the rest of the campsites, with a nice view of the river bottom, and plenty of room. To access site 8, you have to basically walk through site 7, which does not lend itself well to privacy. Getting both these sites would be ideal for a group too large for one campsite alone. 

Sites 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, and 19 border the Willow River and lowlands, with good views. These sites would receive good breezes, especially when the wind is out of the West or North. This could be an advantage in hot weather or when the mosquitoes are especially fierce. 

Sites 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 30 also border the river, but differ in configuration and generally have much less overhead tree cover. Instead of narrow and set off the road, these sites tend to sprawl right alongside the road, and do not offer much privacy from either the road or each other. Encircling the south end of the loop, they would be best cooled by southeast, south, or southwest winds. 

Site 22 is the accessible campsite in this campground. It is fairly spacious, and the parking surface and areas around the picnic table and fire ring appear very level. Tree cover over this site indicates it would receive a few hours of midday sun. 

Sites 31 and 32 are gorgeous level sites in the heart of the red pine plantation. There is not much undergrowth among the shady pines, which gives the appearance of lots of room in these deep-set campsites; unfortunately, this also means they are not the most private. With plentiful pine needles on the forest floor, they would probably not be very muddy in rainy weather. 

11, 14, 16, 29, and 38 are the left-hand sites as you drive through the campground loop. They tend to be smaller campsites with good tree cover. They also tend to be closer to the camp toilets, which may in itself be appealing for some campers. 

 

 

Compliance

Read More Minnesota deer hunting

The Deer Hunt

It was the third day of deer season. My dad, my brother, and I were done hunting and were standing around by the new blind I’d been sitting in. I glanced westward and noticed somebody in blaze orange walking straight toward us across a neighboring soybean field. Having no idea who it was and what they might want, we went to meet him at the property line. When we got close enough to each other, I could see he was wearing a badge that identified him as a state conservation officer. He introduced himself as Jeremy, we shook hands, and I invited him across the fence so we could talk properly. He asked us about the hunt and checked our licenses.  Continue reading “Compliance”

NAGC News: DNR Photo Award & More

Never A Goose Chase News Flash

Minnesota DNR’s Public Lands Photo Contest Minnesota State Fair

NAGC’s own Roy Heilman was recognized as one of three winners of the Minnesota DNR’s 2018 Public Lands Photo Contest. There were reportedly over 200 entries, which were collected through Twitter and Instagram. Roy’s winning photograph, submitted via Twitter, was taken in August of 2017 at Blue Mounds State Park, and features his two children pulling carts toward the tipis in preparation for a night of camping. Continue reading “NAGC News: DNR Photo Award & More”