Wednesday morning, one of Eden Prairie’s smaller conservation areas boldly signaled that the color-saturated phase of autumn had begun. Around the turn of the previous century, humble Birch Island Woods was making statewide news. The Friends of Birch Island Woods had formed. Guided tours, Haunted Woods walks and the first of the Birch Island Woods Plant Sales at the Picha Heritage Farm had become elements of a campaign to rescue a Hennepin County swath of woods and wetlands from development.
But on the morning of Oct. 5, 2022, there were no TV news crews or Eden Prairie News and Sun Current reporters, no Sierra Club posses, no officials from city hall, the county and the DNR, no buckthorn pullers, no state legislators and no walking tours.
Folks like Ana Marinho and her mother, Nadir Silva, have long taken their places. They were walking the main trail with Barack, Ana’s leashed dog. We chatted some. Nadir spoke in beautiful Portuguese, Portuguese with Brazilian sauce. Nadir lives in São Paulo, Brazil, where she raised Ana. She visits the Eden Prairie branch of her family yearly for months at a time. Anastacia Marinho wrote to me in an email that she became a U.S. citizen in 2010. She is an information technology (IT) consultant for a San Jose, California, company.
Wednesday morning, the woods were quiet. Its footpaths would soon be lost to golden mantels of fallen leaves. A windy cold snap had been predicted a few days out, but yesterday morning the temperature hovered in the mid-60s. A woodpecker pounded away in the silence. This was Eden Prairie before railroads and pioneer farmers. Almost.
Nadir had been taking photos of the leafy show along the main trail. She propped a tablet-type device on some forest litter, set the timer, and posed 20 feet out in the cathedral of color. I suspect that she could tap the device’s screen a few times to instantly send her images to friends in Brazil.
The São Paulo metro region counts more than 30 million people and clusters of skyscrapers in a country that hosts parts of the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Basin, Iguazú Falls and Rio de Janeiro. Even so, one can reasonably surmise that to Brazilians, Eden Prairie yesterday morning would seem like an exotic jewel on the edge of an imagined American frontier. This is not debatable.
The main trail of Birch Island Woods has a history. What is now a firm ribbon of cinders good for walking and bicycling was once a main line of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. The alignment and rails were laid out in 1880 and eventually connected the Windy City to Tacoma, Washington. Another surviving stretch of the Milwaukee Road’s original alignment bisects Shady Oak Lake in Minnetonka as a paved neighborhood trail to Shady Oak Beach.
The main Birch Island Woods trail and a few easy walking paths are served by a city parking lot on Indian Chief Road. Street parking is available on the woods’ south side near a small, marked trailhead on Birch Island Road near Harlan Drive.
Eden Prairie residents are blessed with a variety of city and regional parks and trails, conservation areas and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Birch Island Woods is among the more modest of them but is easy on your time, shoes and eyes.
See interactive maps and brief descriptions of Eden Prairie’s conservation areas, parks and trails with a click here.
The following link to earlier EPLN stories on local trails:
Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area
Trail treks to try through Thanksgiving
Trails and parks: a backyard cure for cabin fever
Contributor Jeff Strate serves on the EPLN Board and founded Friends of Birch Island Woods. Sometime after its successful preservation campaigns and habitat restoration projects, the Friends of Birch Island Woods dissolved.
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