Recently I was finally able to visit a place that I had only heard about since moving here to Bemidji. A place where towering giants live. A place where majestic white and red pines have been spared the lumberjack’s ax and saw to become an old growth sanctuary. This place is the Lost Forty.
It takes a little doing to get there as the name of this place would suggest. Not exactly on the main route today, one can only imagine what the territory looked like 125 years ago. A survey crew’s error in 1882 mapped the Lost Forty, which is actually 144 acres, as being underwater in nearby Coddington Lake. Surveyor Josiah A. King and his three-man crew had traveled over 40 miles from the nearest white settlement of Grand Rapids for the project of finishing one of the first land surveys of Northern Minnesota. For a month, in the unsettling winds of November the survey team lived in canvas tents and on rations of flour, pork, beans, and dried apples. An error at the time has created a testament to our North Woods heritage.
Today, with only two percent of Minnesota’s forested land considered to be old growth, this stand of virgin pine has become a monument within the Chippewa National Forest. These magnificent trees are between 300 and 400 years old. That’s well over 100 years older than this great country itself, dating back to the 17th century and the first colonial settlements. Many of the behemoths are up to 350 years old and are just now reaching retirement age as compared to our life span. White and red pines can live to about 500 years old. Between 22 and 48 inches in diameter, this old growth stand, and others like it, are valuable habitat for bald eagles, hawks, woodpeckers, weasels, red squirrels, and other wildlife.
My visit was not long, but I will make the trek back to this special place again, as walking the trails felt like I was entering the corridors of some great hall or temple that has stood the test of time.