Guest Blog: Bog Biodiversity

Editor’s Note: Clinton Nienhaus is a naturalist at Sax-Zim Bog. His occasional guest blogs share information about the bog and its’ inhabitants, as well as activities taking place there throughout the year. 

The author and Head Naturalist investigating some aquatic biodiversity from a creek in the Sax-Zim Bog.

As I illuded to in the last blog post, the Sax-Zim Bog is incredibly diverse in habitat types, as well as diverse in the opportunities to learn a little more about these habitats and species that call them home. From my perspective, as Head Naturalist for the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, birds are the big draw for folks during most of the year, but those same folks are missing so much when they visit! Hopefully, this post will give some perspective on what can be found when exploring the Sax-Zim Bog, looking for birds or other species.

First, let’s talk birds! The Sax-Zim Bog is home to a host of boreal forest specialists, and those species that can be hard to find in other places. Each year, during the winter, we see an average of 2600 visitors, from 30+ states and at least 2 or 3 different countries. In the summer, there are fewer visitors, but that doesn’t mean the birds are gone! Sax-Zim Bog’s bird list is over 240 species, with many of those species staying to nest. The top bird species most folks are coming to the Sax-Zim Bog to see include Great Gray Owl, Connecticut Warbler, Black-backed Woodpecker, Golden-winged Warbler, LeConte’s Sparrow, Sedge Wren, among others. In the winter, most visitors want to see owls, including Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, winter finches such as Common and Hoary Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, as well as Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, and Sharp-tailed Grouse. For summer, Yellow-bellied, Alder, and Olive-sided Flycatcher, 19 species of warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Winter Wren, and even Pileated Woodpecker top most visitor’s lists.

Red and Blue Checkered Beetle is a nice pop of color against the wildflowers of the Sax-Zim Bog.

The Sax-Zim Bog may be a haven for boreal bird species, but there is much more than the diversity of resident bird species or winter visitors. Birds make up a small portion of the over 1,275 species that have been documented (so far!) in the Sax-Zim Bog. This huge diversity can be observed by traversing the 423 acres of land owned by the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog, by investigating the roadsides that meander through the Bog, or in the rivers, streams, and lakes in the Sax-Zim Bog Important Bird Area. With 147,000 acres to cover, 1,275+ species is a great number, but there are more species to be found!

Dragon or Damselfly? Ocellated Emerald is a species of dragonfly that can be found in many of the clean running streams and ditches in the Sax-Zim Bog.

If we look close at the numbers, insects make up over a third of the species observed. This is not very surprising, as insects tend to make up most of the diversity in any given location. 415 species of insect have been found in the Sax-Zim Bog, but with 147,000 acres larger underexplored for insect diversity, this number could be two to three times as high! There is a lot of work to be done to find and identify the insects in the Sax-Zim Bog, but there are folks interested in the butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, tiger beetles, bumblebees, ladybugs of the Sax-Zim Bog who document their finds during their visits. The work of volunteers or excited visitors really helps bolster our understanding of this amazing place! Some insects of interest include 76 species of dragonfly and damselfly, 64 species of butterfly, and over 100 species of moth documented so far.

When you think of northern Minnesota, or bogs, you probably don’t think of the butterflies or other insects you can find; you probably think of the trees and the plants you find during your time in the Northwoods. Well, plants account for over 400 species of the 1,275 documented so far. This includes 93 species of sedge and grass, 14 species of orchid, pitcher plants, round-leaved sundew, and 46 species of tree make the Sax-Zim Bog a place worth a visit by casual wildflower watcher to botanists. Each of these plants play a big role into the diversity of birds that can be found in the Sax-Zim Bog.

Brown Elfin is one of the many bog specialist species that can be found through the 147,000 acres of the Sax-Zim Bog IBA.

Numbers of species are all good and fine, but what is so important about preserving biodiversity? Biodiversity really translates well as a mark on the health of an ecosystem. The more species you can find, the higher quality an ecosystem. The healthier the ecosystem, the better off the animals and folks like you and I are able to enjoy what can be found on a short stroll in the woods. Consider the number of species found in the Sax-Zim Bog: 1,275. Ecologically, you can start to develop a bigger picture of an area: 1,275 means that there is a diverse set of organisms in this place that have been able to survive due high quality ecosystems in the Sax-Zim Bog. 1,275 means that there is an ecosystem that is worth investigating and exploring in person and through preservation those same 1,275 (and more) can be seen by future generations! Bird and Wildlife watching are among the fastest growing outdoor recreation activities in the United States and the diversity in the Sax-Zim Bog attracts bird watchers, butterfly watchers, wildflower lovers, and even dragonfly and damselfly enthusiasts.

One of the many plants found in the Sax-Zim Bog, Bog Rosemary adds subtle color to hummocks of sphagnum moss.

An easy way to enjoy and learn more about the Sax-Zim Bog would be to attend one or more of the education programs offered during the spring, summer, and winter months. This summer will have programs featuring fern identification, lichen identification, bird watching trips, dragonfly and damselfly programs, and even a program on spiders! Another great way to experience the Sax-Zim Bog is to attend our BioBlitz, currently scheduled for July 7th. This will be our 6th annual BioBlitz, where experts go out into the field with trip participants to showcase and find new species in the Sax-Zim Bog! It is a great way to learn about wildflowers, spiders, butterflies, or even fish and aquatic plants! Typically 40 folks attend this one day event and it is always and exciting time for leaders and participants both. To find out more about our field trips, education programs, or the BioBlitz check out our website by following this link: If you have any particular questions about a species of interest or want to register for a program, email Head Naturalist Clinton at And be sure to check out the Bog Blog for articles about biodiversity in the Sax-Zim Bog, or any other of our upcoming and past projects by following this link:

The Sax-Zim Bog is an amazing place and the spring season is upon! Time to get out and enjoy the plants and flowers, sounds and smells, of Spring in the Sax-Zim Bog!

Until then, we will see you in the Bog!


–Clinton Nienhaus, Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Head Naturalist.

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Guest Blog: Mesabi Outdoor Adventures

Hi, I’m Bret Alexander. A few months ago I decided to start inviting people to join me in group hikes around the region. The outings were well-received, and I’ve decided to move forward with Mesabi Outdoor Adventures, a new outdoor club on the Iron Range that hopes to bring many of the non-motorized outdoor enthusiasts in the area together.


The Iron Range and surrounding communities of Northern Minnesota are blessed with a wide variety of outdoor recreation outlets during every season. There are a lot of people getting outside to do things all the time, and this club is an attempt to bring them together for the sake
of sharing resources and building community.


This project is just beginning, but will hopefully develop into a place where people can find new friends to go on trips with, create trips that others can join, and be a place to join a trip that is already being organized by others. Currently, trips or classes are being offered 2 or 3 times a month by one person (me), however this club’s resources are open the others in the community who want to organize their own outings or trips and offer them to an established audience to
participate in.


Our group from an April hike on Bird Lake Trail near Hoyt Lakes.

To encourage others to step forward and create outings, MOA is conducting two
trainings in June and July on how to plan and organize trips. In addition, MOA has partnered
with the Laurentian Environmental Center to create a Wilderness First Aid Course in September which is being taught by instructors from the National Outdoor Leadership School to help increase education and efficacy of people who might be interested in organizing trips through MOA for the community.


Since January 2018 MOA has created more than 10 events offered to the community including day trips, evening trips, overnight trips, and classes.


January 2018 hike at Outlook Mountain north of Virgina.

MOA is interested in an inclusive approach to participation. You don’t have to be an expert to participate, just a desire to spend time outdoors. See you out there!


Editor’s note: View area hiking trail systems here.

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Top Five FREE Things to Do on the Mesabi

Free yourself and your whole family with these fun – and totally free – things to do this spring and summer.


1. Museums and Historic Sites: That’s right, free admission to the interesting and educational – and that’s just the wonderful staff! The exhibits are great, too. Best of the best: Hibbing Area Historical Society Museum, Virginia Heritage Museum, Olcott Park Greenhouse, Nelimark Homestead Museum.

2. Trails:  These trails are perfect for an afternoon hike. Pack a lunch, maybe even a fishing pole, and get out into nature on these family-friendly trails. Our faves: Cary Lake Trail, the trails of Giants Ridge, and the Laurentian Divide trails.

3. Viewpoints: From Skibo Vista’s views of the Superior National Forest and beyond, to Leonidas’ panoramic of communities, minelands and forests, to Finntown Overlook, where you’ll see a vast mine lake, these views are not to be missed!

4. Photo Ops: Take your pic with an iron man, a moose or a giant hockey stick at these made-for-selfies stops across the region. Take time for seriousness, too, when you visit two veterans memorials along the way.5. Get in the Groove: Stop by Biwabik on a Thursday evening and you might catch some free music in the park. Check out all the great events happening around the region this summer!


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Get in the snow, be in the know: Info on Nordic and snowshoe trails on the Mesabi

Here on the Mesabi Iron Range, getting outside is an essential part of getting through winter! For many, Nordic skiing or snowshoeing is the best way to find fresh air, exercise and the beauty of winter, all in one!

Cross-country skiers enjoy the Nordic trails at Giants Ridge. Find groomed trails at Big Aspen, Carey Lake, McCarthy Beach State Park and Hoyt Lakes.

Rent Nordic skis and snowshoes from Giants Ridge, where there are 60 km of Nordic trails, including three km of easy, lighted trails. Loops range from four to 14 km, mostly are two-way, and two of the 10 loops are lift-served. Download a map here.

All the trails at Giants Ridge are groomed classic and skating. Rental packages range from $9 (children’s) to $39. Lessons are from $30 (semi-private) to $84 for a three-hour private lesson. Nordic lessons must be requested 48 hours in advance. Daily ski passes range from $10 to $17. Ages 6 and under ski free.

Skis can also be rented from the  Hibbing Parks and Recreation Department. The Carey Lake system in Hibbing includes 25km in five single-direction loops groomed classical-only or skate-only. Download the map here.

There are 32km of classic-groomed, looped trails at Big Aspen Recreation Area 11 miles north of Virginia. This site is located in the Superior National Forest, and managed by the US Forest Service. No pass is required to ski here.

Also in the Superior National Forest system, Lookout Mountain has 25km of trails four miles north of Virginia on Hwy 53. These two-way, single-track  trails are easy to explore and offer great views. A portion of this system is kept ungroomed for the adventurous. Find map and details here. 

Just over 3km of trails at Carey Lake in Hibbing are designated for snowshoeing/hiking and fat biking.

Snowshoe trails are also offered at Giants Ridge and range from easy to more difficult. A pass is required and ranges from $10 to $17 daily. Hiking is also permitted on the Lookout Mountain trails near Virginia. Request a map that includes 11 area Nordic trail systems, or call 218-749-8161 for more information. This winter, get out there!













































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Bazaar Times on the Mesabi

It’s the first week of November. That glorious season when some in northern Minnesota don orange and head into the woods while others, mostly women, make the rounds of the holiday bazaars


You can literally map a route across the region and spend days stopping into churches, community centers, armories and memorial buildings, shopping for all manner of gift and personal items from homemade bath bombs, quilts, mittens and kids toys to jams, jewelry and repurposed “junk.”


You can restock your Scentsy, Young Living Essential Oils and Tastefully Simple supplies, go in for the handmade items, or both!


And the luncheons. Holy Hannah, the luncheons. Sandwich loaf, chili, beef stew, chicken a la king, turkey salad, wild ride soup and more, lovingly cooked by the wonderful church ladies who make the world go ’round (and maybe an occasional Confirmation class volunteer). And for like, $8.00. With pie!


Buy gifts for others or yourself if you want, but don’t forget to do your “holiday baking,” too. Who will know you didn’t make those buttery spritz cookies? (Only everyone).

As if these gatherings of bakers, builders, creators and crafters aren’t enough to fill a couple weekends and empty a couple pocketbooks, all our favorite stores are hosting open houses with sales, snacks and surprises.


On my list: Rozalla’s Rack and Firelight Galleries, Smith’s Infusion, Irma’s Finalnd House, Material Girl,  Casey’s Drug, Fine Edge Custom Framing, Moxie, Silver Birch Gifts, Northern Comfort, Kunnari’s, the Knitting Knight, and Bender’s Shoe and Sport. Who did I miss? Let me know:


And happy hunting to everyone, whether you’re carrying a rifle or a purse!

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Experience a New Connection

By late September, 2017, the Mesabi Trail will be whole again once more. The completion of a massive construction project that caused the paved cycling trail to be rerouted for nearly two years is reaching its conclusion in Virginia. It was an inconvenience that may very well be worth it: trail users will now experience a new bridge and connection between Virginia and points south and west. Read more

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Three Days Away for 600 Bucks

What can a couple do for $600 or less?  Spend three days on the Mesabi! 


Find midweek rates from $59 to $109 double occupancy at most of our great hotels, motels resorts and B&Bs. View your selection here! 


Say you go with the $109 room for two nights, with tax and tips, you’ll be spending around $260 for two nights, leaving around $340 to work with. So let’s start spending!


Food and Drink

If your lodging choice doesn’t include a free breakfast, as many do, we’re sending you to Kunnari’s Kitchen in Virginia for krupsua (Finnish pancakes) for $4.69. With coffee, juice and tip, you’re looking at around $25 for a morning meal for two!


Lunch at Black Bear Bakery in Chisholm is $6.95 for a pulled pork sandwich and chips, keeping your tab around $25 with a cold beverage and maybe even a cookie to share!


Burgers are $2.50 on Tuesday nights at Mac’s Bar in Buhl, and tacos are $2.00 each at The Thirsty Moose in Hibbing on Wednesdays, making evening meals come in anywhere between $20 and $40 both nights with a beverage on the side.

Other places to stop for tasty but thrifty meals and snacks include breakfast or lunch for around $12 at Memory Lane Cafe in Gilbert and, right down the road, hand-dipped ice cream at Kandyz-n-Konez. Back on the east end of the Mesabi Coffee and Cream in Hibbing has tasty lunch items and treats as well!


For dinner, get a plate of homemade pasta with a salad at Valentini’s Supper Club in Chisholm for $11.95 and up, or share a wood fired pizza for around $17 with craft beer on the side at The Shop Coffeehouse in Virginia.


Let’s do the math:

Two breakfasts x $25

Three lunches x $25

Two dinners x $45

Snacks, two days: $24

Total: $210 – we’re down to $130!



The 218 Taphouse in Virginia has vinyl night Wednesdays and live music Thursdays. You can also take in some tunes at Music in the Park in Biwabik, every other Thursday through summer.

Admission to Minnesota Discovery Center, the museum of the Iron Range, is free every Thursday after 3 p.m. Explore the indoor and outdoor exhibits, and catch a trolley ride at 6 p.m. for just $4 per person.


Can’t do Thursday? Admission Tuesday-Sunday and Thursdays before 3 p.m. is $9 for adults. Add in mining-themed mini-golf for $4 a person.


Rent bicycles and spend a half day exploring the Mesabi Trail for around $60 with three-day trail pass.


The Soudan Undergound Mine State Park tour is a must, and only $11 per person.


Admission is free for a wealth of knowledge at these locations: Hibbing Historical Society Museum, Hull Rust Mine View,  the Virginia Heritage Museum, and Olcott Park Greenhouse and Botanical Gardens.

Enjoy works by local artists at the Lyric Center for the Arts (free), or view the City of Virginia’s bold, nostalgic murals on local buildings’ exteriors. Impressive artwork, stonework and more await at the Hibbing High School. Arrange a guided tour by calling the Iron Range Tourism Bureau. Free. All free!


I could go on and on, but I’ll stop with these last two: express your patriotism by visiting veterans memorials in Virginia and Chisholm, or stop by Hockey Plaza in Eveleth for a free education about the region’s most-loved sport.


We’ve spent around $120 for tours and rentals, and given you a whole bunch of free options. Not bad! 


Move Your Body

To stretch your legs, hike around Carey Lake in Hibbing for a three-mile jaunt, or explore the trails at Giants Ridge, the Laurentian Divide, or Big Aspen Recreation Area. Free, free, free and free.

If you’d like a little history to go with your exercise, both Hibbing and Eveleth offer walking tours, complete with brochure. Call IRTB 218-749-8161 to request maps.


If all this walking and cycling warms you too much, dive in. Our beaches are just lovely! Find them in Hibbing, Buhl, Mountain Iron, Gilbert, Eveleth, Biwabik, and Hoyt Lakes.


What’s Left?

We’ve given you three fun-filled days’ worth of ideas, and you still have $10 in your pocket! All that’s left now – besides that $10 – is to request information online, give us a call, or just plan it all out on your own!














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Kick up some dust before you walk down the aisle

Motoring Mesabi: Bring your Bachelor Party to the Range

The awesome golf on the Mesabi makes for a fun bachelor party, but did you ever think about hitting the trails in an ATV? We’ve got the state’s largest ATV rec area in Gilbert – we call it The Park – and you can spend the weekend there, or add some side trips on our regional trails.

ATVs crawl over rocks in the Off Highway Vehicle Recreation Area in Gilbert, MN

Need machines? Rent ’em!

Off Road Rentals in Sturgeon River, MN is right on the way to the Mesabi Iron Range from the Twin Cities area. Talk to Shelly – she’ll get you set up with everything you need for a fun four-wheeling trip!

Rent ATVs, including side-by-sides, at Off Road Rentals in Sturgeon Lake, MN.

After your ride, it’s time to relax

If you’re a camping type of group, Sherwood Forest Campground in Gilbert offers great sites and a trail right to The Park. Plus, Gilbert kindly provides a liquor store, and restaurants including The Whistling Bird, Wandering Pines and two cafes, within walking distance from the campgrounds.

Jessica Leitz, owner of The Whistling Bird restaurant, serves up a Caribbean-style menu and plenty of other delish dishes.

Lodging to Your Liking

If you’d rather stay in a hotel, there’s a Super 8 in Eveleth with trail connection to The Park and BoomTown Restaurant right across the street. (There’s also an ATV dealer within spittin’ distance, in case you’re in the market to buy or need repairs).  At nearby Giants Ridge, stay at The Lodge, The Villas, or The Residence, for a resort-style experience – including golf if you like – plus onsite dining at The Burnt Onion. Take a break from riding to try the new climbing wall at Giants Ridge.

The Lodge at Giants Ridge offers 2- 3- and 4-bedroom suites.

Play on 4 Wheels, Go Home in 1 Piece

While you’re here, we want you to have a blast – but we also want you to be safe. Wear a helmet. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t get crazy, you’ve got a wedding coming up! Check the rules before you decide.

Riders enjoy the Northern Traxx ATV Trail near Chisholm, MN.

Got extra time? Hang out with us!

With the US Hockey Hall of Fame Museum (a sports fan must), mountain bike trails, mine tours, spa services and more, you might want to stay longer than you thought!

Riders at The Park in Gilbert, MN.

Questions? Just ask!

We’re here to help. If you need a party bus, ideas for evening entertainment, or anything else, give us a call at 218-749-8161, request or download some maps, and get the guys (or gals – we offer equal opportunity fun!), and get up here!

Water “play area” at The Park in Gilbert, MN.

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One Day on the Mesabi

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You’re ready to ride, are the trails?

This time of year, we’re all dying to get outside and enjoy our favorite activities, and that means the folks who maintain our trails are busy getting them ready for you. Take a look at what’s happening on the paved Mesabi Trail this time of year, and you’ll get a new appreciation for the work that goes into trail prep every spring!

Ride with caution in spring! You might find snow/ice on the trail in shady areas.

As you might expect, trail maintenance is constant in the riding months. The Mesabi Trail has one full time, year-round maintenance person, plus about five seasonal workers who are brushing and mowing the trail shoulders, using chainsaws to rid the trail of fallen trees, blowing rocks and debris from the trail and many other tasks.

Blowdown happens all year round, and with 120+ miles of trail, keeping the Mesabi Trail clear presents and ongoing challenge. Good thing the trail maintenance staff are up to the task!

A small crew obviously can’t be everywhere, all the time. In some communities, city staff lend a hand when it comes to trail maintenance. And the Mesabi Trail crew relies on riders to alert them to issues, too.

Good thing the Mesabi Trail crew sweeps the trail!

Another item the crew might have to deal with is, believe it or not, deer and other animal carcasses. Sometimes, you never know what’s under the snow! But lucky for you, when you hit the Mesabi Trail, THIS is what you’re likely to see! 

Or this!

Or this!

Covering wooded, industrial (iron mining), hilly, flat and in-town landscapes, the Mesabi Trail is a must-ride for any cyclist. To plan your Mesabi Trail adventure, or just to learn more about the towns and activities along the trail, click here:



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