Humans on the barrens: The wandering Arvid Lyons

IMG_2124We know for certain where Arvid Lyons lived out the end of his eventful life. And we know where he lies at rest in the Namekagon Barrens of northwestern Wisconsin.

How and why he got there is a little more of a mystery.

An immigrant from Sweden in his 60s, Lyons arrived with a big family on the sandy barrens of northern Burnett County in the opening years of the 20th Century. He and his wife homesteaded on nearly 160 acres just west of Richart Lake, land that today lies next to St. Croix Trail in east Blaine Township and is the site of the cabin and picnic shelter used by the Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area.

Within 10 years, he had died, his wife had died and his many children had scattered.

A mile away, a rusting metal marker bearing his name is one of only two or three markers still legible in tiny Evergreen Cemetery.

But this was only the last tale of his life. Who was Arvid Lyons?

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FNBWA Nature Walk – July 14th, 2018 – Free

On Saturday, July 14th, the Friends of Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area is sponsoring a nature walk. Meet the leader, Mark Nupen between 8:30 and 9:00 am at the Friends clubhouse, 33174 Gomulak Fire Lane, Danbury, WI. Watch for red and white signs at the intersection of St. Croix Trail and Gomulak Fire Lane.

Walking will be a leisurely mile or so and will last about 2 hours. Bring water, snacks, bug spray, and a bucket for blueberry picking!

A toilet is located at the clubhouse.

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June 30 FNBWA Barrens Nature Walk

Submitted by Mark Nupen, FNBWA President and Nature Walk Leader

Thank you to all who attended. We had a great nature walk! We started at a favorite spot, which is the Forest Home School on St. Croix Trail road just west of the Barrens Cabin.  Lots of flowers of course and we talked about the old school house and how this originally was a farm community with its own school and farmers.  Of course it all failed but it is part of the story of the Barrens.  Native Americans successfully used the land for its plants and especially the blueberries which grow best in the fire-impacted lands of the Barrens.

We walked north from the school along the small trail just west of the school house. Then we headed out on Gomulak Fire Ln and Clemens Road. We could hear the calls from the Uplands Sandpipers nearby.  When disturbed, the Uplands put on a spectacular broken wing act to lead divert attention from their nest area.  We could also hear the Sharp-tailed grouse nearby.

Blueberries on the Barrens

I wanted to show one of my favorite plants, the Sweetfern.  I love its fragrance and appearance which is quite densely located in some areas but other areas hardly any.  So we went east and south of Clemens road and found lots of sweet fern plants.  Sweet Fern was an important herb used by Native Americans.  I love this plant because it is like ‘perfume’ on the Barrens.   Where it grows thick it’s fragrance is all around you.

Butterfly Weed

We all had a great day on the Barrens.

Woodlillies on the Barrens

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Humans on the barrens: Clemens family, Clemens Creek

IMG_2156Concrete foundations of what likely were silos for hay on the homestead of William and Mary Clemens.

At least three of us – Brian Finstad, Vern Drake and I – have poked around separately in recent weeks on what seems to be the homestead of William and Mary Clemens just west of Dry Landing Road in the barrens.

The couple came from Iowa in the early 1900s, farmed briefly, raised a family and then left after less than 20 years, among the dozens who settled in the barrens but only temporarily.

If you follow a two-track path through dense mixed forest about three-tenths of a mile west from Dry Landing, you come to a grass clearing a couple hundred feet across amid jack pines and pin oaks. The clearing is just south of what has come to be known as Clemens Creek, a short drainage flowing out of the Namekagon Barrens and into the St. Croix River.

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Humans on the barrens: Jim Anderson

jim andersonVern Drake and Dave Peters visited Jim Anderson on June 5, 2018, and he shared with us several documents, photos and his memory of his grandparents and other people who lived in the area around Little Sand Lake in the west part of the Town of Minong and in the east part of the Town of Blaine. This is a summary of that visit written by Dave Peters.

If the people who eked out a living in the barrens in the early 20th Century live on through anyone, it would be Jim Anderson, who lives on Little Sand Lake in Washburn County, just east of the Namekagon Barrens. Vern Drake and I spent a couple hours with Jim one afternoon a few days before his 83rd birthday in early June 2018.

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Annual open house


(Photo by Jerome McAllister.)

The Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area held their annual open house June 9, 2018, a little earlier than in past years. We gathered as always at the cabin on Gomulak Fire Lane, but this year we had the benefit of the just-completed picnic shelter to ward off the few sprinkles of rain.

Gary Dunsmoor kicked the day off by leading a nature walk about a mile north of the cabin, a good primer for what June is like on the barrens. Continue reading

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South Unit Nature Walk–Lupines and Bogs



The Friends of the Namekagon Barrens is leading a series of Nature Walks during the summer of 2018. The first was led by Gary Dunsmoor (above) on the morning of June 16. Gary has been a powerful advocate for our Barrens for over 40 years as both a DNR employee and Freind. The south boundary of the South Unit is home to the the only sizeable stand of native lupine in the NBWA. The endangered Karner’s blue butterfly depends entirely upon this plant for propagation. Our location is thought to be about 20 miles north of historic range for both the lupine and the Karner’s. The nature walk confirmed the lupine’s 40-year continued presence on the same large south-facing hillside (below). We arrived just after a summer thunderstorm with wind and overcast hanging around, and predictably, butterflies were not flying. Other hillside flower species were puccoon, moss phlox, and harebell, Song birds identified were black-billed cuckoo, golden-winged warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, black and white warbler, song sparrow, eastern towhee, eastern kingbird and least flycatcher.

The northwest corner of the South Unit contains a series of large bogs plus a sizeable bog pond. The area does not have a name, but Mark Nupen and Jerry McAllister think it should be called Duns Moor. Gary is of 100% Scottish descent. The hike began near the intersection of River Road and Namekagon Trail. The view from the starting point is stunning (below). It is from 2-300 feet above the bog and pond and captures both plus a sizeable portion of the 19th Century overland wagon road from Fort Snelling to Madeline Island. Native Americans used the same pathway for hundreds of years to get from Lake Superior to the Mississippi River, well before Zebulon Pike’s establishment of Fort Snelling.

Primary bog plants observed near the pond were cotton grass, small cranberry, pitcher plant, bog rosemary, pale swamp laurel, Labrador tea, leather leaf, and lots of sphagnum moss. Gary provided all of these identifications. Butterfly weed provided its usual showy orange near the trailhead leading to the pond. Birds about the bog and pond were black-billed cuckoo, golden-winged warbler, eastern kingbird, eastern towhee, mourning dove, Canada goose, and hooded merganser. Insects were noticeably absent.





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