Kingsbury Creek Trail
Located at the northwest corner of the Lake Superior Zoo where the old Duluth Winnipeg and Pacific railroad tracks cross the creek, this 1.3 mile trail will present the leisurely hiker a moderate challenge.
William Wallace Kingsbury, for whom the creek is named, was a well known resident and Minnesota Territory congressional delegate in the 1850's and 60's. He owned land along the creek and had built a cabin there which was well known to area folks for its library. Mr. Kingsbury made this cabin available to those in need while he was in St. Paul in 1857 for the state Constitutional Convention and the congress session for the Minnesota Territory in 1857 & 58.
In 1861 the land passed into the hands of Francis Morrisett thru the 1855 Bounty Land Act. Around 1904 it was acquired by Guilford G. Hartley who willed it to his son Cavour Hartley in 1932. In 1963 the property was acquired by the state thru tax forfeit and put under the jurisdiction of the City of Duluth.
The trail head is where the old DWP trestle crosses the creek. Parking is available in the Lake Superior Zoo lot at 72 Ave. W. and Fremont Street. At the north end of the parking lot turn left and follow the Waseca Street right of way to the trestle.
White pine dominated the lumber industry in Minnesota at the turn of the last century. This area was logged over in the 1920's so the large white pines which line this section of the creek and extend west into the zoo are second growth trees. Off the trail the soil has a thick build up of "duff", the fallen pine needles which have accumulated over almost 100 years, if you look you may see the outlines of the huge stumps of those virgin trees. The white pine needles are two to four inches long and carried five to the bundle. The cones are long and tapering with a slight curve and the tips of the petals are covered with sticky pitch which is hard to remove from fingers and clothing.
The next section of the trail is an area of flood plain. Spring run-off and heavy rains sweep this section free of debris and prevent trees and brush from taking hold. Less leaf litter and moister conditions along with a later start in the spring due to high water levels makes this a unique ecotome between the creek and the higher forest area. Here you can find examples of large leaf aster, interrupted fern, ostrich fern and thimbleberry as well as beaked hazelnut.
After you cross the snowmobile bridge you move into a more open area dominated by paper birch and aspen. The ground that rises away from the creek is dryer and these deciduous trees have taken over what was a climax forest of white and red pines, spruce and fir. Beautiful any time of year but especially so in fall when both species turn gold before dropping their leaves for the winter.
The birch serves us in many ways. Native Americans tapped the trees for sap to render into sugar which was used to help preserve their food among other things. The bark is stripped and used to make beautiful baskets and boxes and the traditional canoe of North America. It was also used to cover the summer lodges of the woodland people who did not have access to the large hides of buffalo and elk from which to craft skin lodges like those used by the plaines tribes.
Big tooth aspen or "popple" trees are a major source of wood pulp for paper making which is still a major industry in northern Minnesota. Fast growing it reproduces vegetatively from root suckers and is a very renewable resource. Its leaves are larger than those of the birch and leathery with toothed margins.
As you start back on the downward loop of the trail you will be shaded by the "Tree of Life". So called by the french voyageurs who drank cedar tea for it's vitamin C content which prevented scurvy in a diet high in meat and lacking fresh fruit or vegetables. White cedar has shaggy grey bark over a reddish under layer, the leaves are flat and scale like and when crushed it gives of a fresh scent of menthol. This section of the trail also has large exposed boulders with a flat lacy growth of grey-green lichen covering large patches of them. The lichen is the first plant to grow on exposed rock and is actually an algae and a fungi. The fungi acts as a sponge, holding water which the algae uses to produce an acid which begins to break down the rock and releases some of the minerals which the plant needs to grow. Dead lichens also become the first layer of the forest soil as they begin to break down. This makes a home for the mosses which move in next and when they die the soil layer is enhanced enough for grasses to begin to take hold. The grasses have strong roots which can enter small cracks in the rocks allowing water to erode and ice to crack and begin to break down the rock so that more soil is created and shrubs and large trees can take root.
Look for trees growing in cracks in these rocks which are called "Duluth Gabbro" a form of igneous granite which is among the oldest rock in the world, nearly 1.7 billion years. Strong and dense it is also called "bluestone" and is cut and used in building, especially for walls and foundation blocks. Many of Duluth's older homes show beautiful examples of bluestone used in and around them.
In the spring there are three common flowering forest plants which can be seen along the trail. The Clintonia or "Trout Lily" has a delicate yellowgreen bell shaped flower on a tall stem which rises from a whorl of two or three long, flat basal leaves. In late summer the leaves have died back leaving the stem upright with a cluster of indigo blue berries at the tip. The Wild Lily of the Valley has deeply cleft heart shaped leaves and the flower stalk carries four to six small white bells. In summer it sports a row of speckled berries down the stalk. The fruits of these lilies are not edible for us humans but are part of the diet for many little rodents. The Bunchberry is shorter and it belongs to the Dogwood family. You will notice a similarity in the leaf structure and reddish color. The tiny green flowers grow from the center of the leaf cluster on a short stem and are surrounded by four, symetrical white brachts giving the appearance of a single blossom. The fall berries are bright red and form a tight bunch, hence th name.
Now you are at the snowmobile bridge again and can continue down the wide track which was once called Thompson Hill Road. It was originally built in the 1930's by the CCC workers who also built much of the rock work at the Lake Superior Zoo. Proctorites used this road to reach Highway 23 and the Arrowhead and Oliver Bridges across the St Louis River to Wisconsin. This is a good place to look for animal tracks.
Whitetailed Deer frequent the Tag Alder and Staghorn Sumac thickets along the road side for browse and shady naps. The sumac is a stunning sight in the fall when it is flame red and the berries can be soaked in water to produce a maleac acid solution which, when strained and sweetened, can be drunk as an acceptable substitute for lemonade and probably refreshed many an early settler of the area.
Nearby you should be able to find the remains of an old building foundation. No records show who built this house but it was probably built right after World War I. Earlier construction used the bluestone foundation stones with concrete block becoming more popular in the 1920's. We do know that the George Finks family lived here in the 1950's and 60's. Remnants of the former domestic flower beds and shrubs still survive around the site and Lilacs, Roses and Pink Dropwort can be found in bloom here.
As you near the end of the trail the roadside is lined with many wild fruit trees and berry bushes. You may be able to pick blueberries, raspberries, June berries, choke cherries and pin cherries.That is if you can beat the birds, the squirrels and the neighborhood children to them.
habitat supports many species of birds both migrants and locals. The mix
of pines and hardwoods and the standing dead trees provide nesting for
everything from Kestrels and Oriels to Blue Jays, Chickadees and Sparrows.
As you head back to your car stop at the pavilion in Fairmont Park. It
has a beautiful view of the creek and water fall and you may spot the
Great Blue Heron who fishes in the settling pond or catch a flash of red
from the Cardinal who nests on the Zoo grounds.