Soapbox Loop (.8 Miles)
Although short, the Soapbox Loop is an interesting hike that takes you through several unique areas of the park. On this hike you’ll see N. Tischer Creek, Hartley Pond, an old Pine Plantation, a beautiful pollinator meadow, the old soapbox derby racetrack, and some newly completed creek restoration work. It can be a great hike for families with little ones, or for those short on time. It’s also a great snowshoe loop once we have a little more snow on the ground.
Begin your hike on the path leading to the Hartley Nature Center Building. Stay left at the HNC kiosk, continuing past the butterfly garden, over 2 small bridges, and past the gate to the Hartley Nature Center outdoor campus (in the fenced enclosure). Continue over a couple of short bridges staying right at the intersection with the Superior Hiking Trail (follow the blue blazes). Here the trail will cross several more bridges as it follows N. Tischer Creek to Hartley Pond. Before crossing the dam, a trail splits off to the right. The shoreline here makes a great spot for a picnic, or for catching frogs and crayfish in the summer months. You’ll often see Hartley Nature Center programming playing on the shores of the pond. As the trail leaves the pond shore it starts climbing up Soapbox Knoll. Roughly halfway up the hill you’ll see a trail that enters from the left. Take this trail and immediately you’ll notice a change in the landscape. You have entered a pine plantation that was planted over half a century ago. A light dusting of snow only adds to the beauty of the pines. This time of year, you may notice the understory is still quite green. Unfortunately, most of these plants are one of two invasive species of buckthorn. Both common and glossy buckthorn stay green well into the fall, and although it’s interesting to see the splash of green among the snow, these plants can be very harmful to the native plant communities in Hartley Park. Hartley Nature Center and the City of Duluth are working together on a plan to manage invasive species and restore the native plant communities here. Some of this work has already begun, and You may notice the piles of buckthorn that have already been cut and treated. A short walk down the trail brings you to a Y intersection. Stay right here and follow the trail to yet another intersection. This time it’s a T intersection. Stay right again, following the trail as it loops back through the pines. As the trail exits the pines on Soapbox Knoll it opens to a beautiful pollinator meadow. Although most of the flowers are gone this time of year, it’s still a beautiful example of what successful restoration can look like. This area was heavily infested with buckthorn just a few years ago, but by removing it and planting a pollinator meadow, it has kept reinfestations at bay. In front of you lies the Hartley Nature Center outdoor campus, and to the right is the pond. Our trail continues left at the top of the knoll. The trail here is faint, but a short walk down this trail will bring you to a wide paved “trail” that ends at the Hartley Park entrance road. This is the old soapbox derby racetrack that was a popular sport in the 1960’s. The track has been used as a trail since the late 60’s, and nature is beginning to take over again. As you walk down the track try to imagine 3000 people standing on either side of the track cheering you on. At the bottom of the track is a new bridge; completed a few weeks ago. This bridge was necessary after a new stream channel was dug as part of a stream restoration project. This cold-water tributary to N. Tischer Creek helps cool the warm water exiting Hartley Pond; creating better habitat for trout. Stay to the right as you near the driveway. Here the trail skirts the enclosure fence on it’s way back to the Nature Center and the picnic field by the parking lot.