Sunday, March 28, 2010

spring and philosophy come to the Antenna Farm

I rode my bike around the Antenna Farm today, and the endless ruts and potholes and the small but numerous inclines convinced me that the Antenna Farm is better for walking than biking (or driving, for that matter). The ice is almost completely out on the pond now, and today there was one red-winged blackbird proclaiming his might. A bit further down the road I saw a pileated drumming on a phone pole again, on the opposite end of the woods as the last one I saw, although it could be the same bird. (I managed to shoot some shaky, dizzy-making video this time, but I will not inflict that on you all.)

Elsewhere, there were two separate snowshoe hares merrily gamboling down the dirt road and nibbling on greenery in the woods, offering me excellent views of their limited-time-only piebald coat, brown on top and white underneath. They both scattered when I reached for my camera. Before this year I can't remember the last time I saw a for-sure snowshoe hare (not a regular cottontail rabbit) here in town, and now I've seen three in the Antenna Farm woods. Today I also nearly ran into a cluster of five deer, a mix of adult does and yearlings, and finally saw my first chipmunk of spring.

A lot of land off of the road is impassably flooded now, quite a bit of a contrast from other wild places I've been recently, which are mostly much drier than they should be. If there was a place in town to find skunk cabbage, the Antenna Farm would be it. (Although I've heard from several reliable sources now that there is none in Duluth to be found, but that kind of makes me want to find some even more, to have my own private, special patch of skunk cabbage.) But I'll be interested to see what other wildflowers there are up there, and unless radio signals do something funky to amphibians, it should be frog central up there in a few weeks.

The area around the Antenna Farm--and possibly that pond in particular--is the headwaters for Brewery Creek, a poor neglected urban creek that has mostly been shoved underground. It's above ground briefly just downhill of the Coppertop Church, then again just above 10th Street, once more behind the Co-op, then it empties into the lake by Fitger's Brewery. That little pond may also be what's left of the "ancient lake" mentioned in this DNT article. (I haven't explored Duluth Heights enough to know if there's another lake or pond further to the east; there's certainly wetlands.) The pond could also be the headwaters for Buckingham Creek, and according to that DNT article, Brewery and Buckingham once both flowed from the same source (and were once trout streams! can you imagine?).

At any rate, the Antenna Farm woods is an example of what that part of town looked like before it was all mall and sprawl. One of the things that fascinates me most about natural history is just that--the history of natural places. What did the land beneath me right now look like before 1886 when my house was built? What did downtown look like before it was buried under concrete? What did the mall look like before it was the mall? The towers on the Antenna Farm do uglify the area, and radio tower cause havoc with bird migration, but at the same time building radio antennas has saved the land from even worse development, like dredging and filling and franchise building. Even with the radio interference, nature is trying to find a way to make do anyway, and the woods around the Antenna Farm offer a rare view of what this portion of Duluth used to be before white people came in and tore it all up.


  1. I always thought of the antenna farm as sort of a guilty pleasure--it looked cool at night and I liked the idea of them all being together rather than spread all over town. But I never explored it at all so it's fun to read your description. I'm hoping to be in Duluth for a couple days in May so maybe I'll hike it then--where's the entry point?

  2. The actual antennas are sort of a guilty pleasure for me too; I live just a few blocks away from the Antenna Farm, so no matter where I am in the city, if I can see the lights I can see "home."

    Coming from the east, you can enter on 12th St, behind the Harbor Highland townhomes (take the mall bus and get off near the Coppertop Church). Coming from the west, you can get in at 9th St (the 14 bus goes nearish to there). 12th and 9th Streets turn a lot but do not fork, and although they/it goes by several names according to the map, it is essentially one dirt road that runs along the lower portion of the Antenna Farm. Orange Road intersects with it and runs up to Arlington. There's a big open spot on the map between Orange and Observation Road that I haven't explored yet. But between Orange and Central Entrance there are snowmobile trails that will probably be dryish by May, and there are good things to see from the road, too. The pond is just off of Orange, below Arlington somewhere, but it's hard to pick out where exactly on the map.

  3. Cool, thanks. I still have my Duluth map for future apartment hunting (and I read that long DNT series that gave away all the good homeless spots) so I marked it on there.

    Good for you for your Zenith column--I thought of contacting them about writing but it seemed pointless since I knew I'd be leaving. I think it has the potential to be an important paper if it can make it financially--some good articles mixed in with a lot of stuff I thought was pretty stupid. Heck, maybe it will wind up being the last paper in town.