Hartley Pond Loop (.25 Miles)
The freeze thaw cycle is here! The freeze thaw cycle is important because it can be one of the most damaging forces on Duluth area trails, especially with the added stress of human use. What makes the freeze thaw so damaging? Water in the soil turns to ice at night when temperatures dip below freezing. Frozen water expands, causing the compacted soil to loosen. As temperatures rise during the day, the ice melts, and when mixed with loose soil can create a slippery, muddy mess. When people hike or bike on those same trails it can create a rut or depression that will allow more water to pool. More water will equate to more mud, creating conditions that can be very damaging to trails. These muddy trails also take significantly more time to dry, extending the length of closures. With the added water from snowmelt this week, it’s best to avoid the trails until they dry (or are frozen solid). Despite the freeze thaw cycle, there are still opportunities to hike in Duluth, and in Hartley Park. The first option is to hike when trails are frozen. This is usually early morning, or late evening. If that isn’t possibly, or if trails aren’t frozen then you should stick to non-natural surface trails. This includes pavement, boardwalk, or gravel. Fortunately, Hartley Park has several gravel trails that stand up well to the freeze thaw cycle. The hike described below links two of these trails together for a short, but lovely loop.
From the parking lot head towards the Hartley Nature Center building. Stay left as you pass the HNC kiosk, continuing left at the next trail split. This trail takes you past the “climbing tree” and picnic area and across a boardwalk before reaching the Bridge across Tischer Creek. Tischer Creek is a designated trout stream that starts just outside of Hartley Park, and flows through Duluth to Lake Superior. It’s not uncommon to see fish swimming in the pool just below the bridge. Cross the bridge and take the first right onto Old Hartley Road. Old Hartley Road is a well-traveled gravel path that holds up well during freeze thaw cycle. It can get icy in the early and late winter seasons. Use caution if this is the case. Continue on Old Hartley Road until you come to the next intersection. This might just be the biggest intersection of trails in the park. Continuing straight keeps you on Old Hartley Road, turning left puts you on the Superior Hiking Trail. Taking a right here puts you on the Tunnel Trail, and for just a few steps that is the trail you want to take. Almost immediately after turning onto the tunnel trail you will come to another large intersection. Just in front of you is the canoe landing (which makes a good pit stop on your hike). To the left is the Rock Knob Trail, and to the right is the N. Tischer Creek trail. Take the N. Tischer Creek trail as it parallels the east side of the pond and eventually across the dam at Tischer Creek. After you cross the dam stay to the right. The N. Tischer Trail follows Tischer Creek on its way back towards the bridge. This trail crosses several boardwalks as it passes through a beautiful riparian zone. In the spring and fall this is a great place to watch for small migrating songbirds. It’s also a good place to see waterfowl, even in the winter months. A short way down the trail you’ll see the Hartley Nature Center exclosure (fenced in area), and you’ll come to a trail split. Stay to the left here and follow the trail as it winds its way back to the nature center and the parking lot. This route is a good mud season hike since most of it is on gravel. If you do encounter any wet or muddy spots, walk through and not around. Now get out and enjoy the warm weather this week!