The Beauty of Cuyuna Country
Within the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area (CCSRA) are twenty-one lakes including six natural lakes and fifteen former mines ranging in depth from 100 to 525 feet. The lakes are filled with crystal clear water and offer the best conditions for scuba diving in the Midwest. Visitors will find 25 miles of undeveloped shoreline with a considerable area of forested land containing trembling aspen, paper birch, basswood, red oak, ironwood and big-tooth aspen.
Other waters along or near the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail corridor include the Mississippi River, Rice Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Serpent Lake, Rabbit Lake and Cedar Lake. Connecting trails to Deerwood and Bay Lake areas will pass near at least seven additional lakes.
Crow Wing County alone boasts 417 lakes. The Cuyuna Lakes State Trail lies within the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The Upper Mississippi River Basin encompasses many smaller units called major watersheds. The trail lies within the Mississippi River-Brainerd major watershed, which drains over one million acres.
The DNR has stocked trout in several of the mine lakes within the CCSRA and in waters along the proposed trail corridor. Stocking trout in these waters, together with natural populations of panfish, large and smallmouth bass, and large northern pike, provides excellent fishing along the trail corridor.
The trail corridor is home to an abundance of wildlife. Visitors may have the opportunity to see white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbit, snowshoe hare, raccoon, red fox, gray fox, coyote, mink, muskrat, squirrels, and beaver. Occasionally, black bears may be observed. American bald eagles and osprey frequent the area, and many species of waterfowl also take advantage of the abundant aquatic habitat found in the marshes and lakes of the trail corridor. Of special note is a large population of the common loon, the state bird. Several pairs nest in the clear waters of the CCSRA.
The topography of the region is gently rolling to flat, with waters and wetlands generously interspersed with the woodlands that cover the landscape. Trail users will discover the vibrant color of the iron ore tailings and stockpiled rock enjoying what has been characterized as a mini-boundary waters experience. Further east, the land becomes flatter, with gently rolling fields of hay and generously scattered wetlands.
Lying north of Highway 210 and bordered on the north by the Crow Wing State Forest, the CCSRA extends from Riverton on the west to County Road 31 on the east. It includes the northern portions of the cities of Ironton and Crosby. The area is about 10 miles northeast of Brainerd's Lum Park and city trail system, and about 12 miles west of Aitkin.
The naturally rolling to flat glacial geology of the Cuyuna Range has been tremendously altered since mining began in 1903. The deep extraction and subsequent piling of waste rock and ore left the mine areas with extreme topography changes. In some areas overburden was stockpiled more than 200 feet high, and pits were as much as 525 feet deep. Time and nature have reclaimed the mined areas, filling the pits with water and allowing forests to cover the overburden piles, leaving spectacular vistas and the feeling of being in a natural, unaltered environment.
County and State forests
The future connecting local trail system between Deerwood and Bay Lake will pass through or near, the Lansin R. Hamilton Memorial Forest, a Crow Wing County forest. In addition, east of Bay Lake is the Wealthwood State Forest. The future connecting local trail between Cuyuna and Trommald will pass adjacent to the south edge of the Crow Wing State Forest.
Lodging, resorts and campgrounds can be found along the route of the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail system, as well as, existing public campgrounds in the CCSRA and at parks in Brainerd, Crosby and Aitkin. Private campgrounds provide additional capacity. Large numbers of hotel rooms are available in the Brainerd/Baxter area.
Hallett Community Center
The Hallett Community Center, near the Croft Mine Historical Park in Crosby, offers restroom facilities, a snack bar, swimming and seasonal ice-skating. It also plays host to many community activities and events. Call 218-546-2616 for more information.
Community Festivals and Events
Community events and festivals offer visitors many opportunities for fun and relaxation. Events include Aitkin's Riverboat Heritage Days, Festival of Adventures, Fish House Parade, and the Aitkin County Fair; Deerwood's Summerfest; Crosby's Heritage Days; the Crow Wing CountyFair in Brainerd; and many more such activities along the north-south Paul Bunyan State Trail, soon to be connected to the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail. For more information and upcoming dates for these and other area events, contact the Cuyuna Range Chamber of Commerce at218-546-8131 or cuyunacountry.net.
Other trail connections
The Cuyuna Lakes State Trail will be a vital link in the recreation system of the central Minnesota lakes region. It will connect to the Paul Bunyan State Trail, which is a 100-mile long trail between Baxter/Brainerd and Bemidji. Future expansion of the Paul Bunyan State Trail is planned connecting to Crow Wing State Park.
This connection will link Crow Wing State Park and the CCSRA, allowing travel between the two units. The Cuyuna Lakes State Trail is also planned to be a link to other state and regional trails, such as the Munger State Trail to the east, the Mesabi Regional Trail to the north, and the Glacial Lake Aitkin Trail system in Aitkin County. The Cuyuna Lakes State Trail will also be part of the national Mississippi River Trail, a 10-state cycling route that will allow cyclists to tour from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
Croft Mine Historical Park
The Merrimac Mining Company first operated the Croft mine located in northeast Crosby. The initial shaft went down through 110 feet of glacial drift to reach the ore body and ultimately reached a total depth of 630 feet. Lateral shafts or drifts were then extended into the ore body from which the ore was blasted and hauled to the surface. Ore from the Croft mine was exceptionally rich, being 55% iron and of Bessemer quality. Bessemer quality refers to a high quality ore needed in the Bessemer process of making steel. The Youngstown Mining Company operated the mine from 1928 to 1931, and the Hanna Mining Company operated the mine from 1931 until the last ore from this property was shipped in 1934.
The total production of the Croft mine was 1,770,000 tons. The original smokestack and dry house, where the miners cleaned up after a day underground, remain on the site. There is also a realistic simulation of the cage, in which the miners rode down to work, and a life-like mock-up of a drift with mannequins performing the usual jobs. The guided tour includes Cuyler Adams office and ends in the dry where many original artifacts are displayed.
The Milford mine, originally named the Ida Mae, was located approximately 2 miles north of Crosby about 1000 feet from the northwest side of Foley Lake. The property was first leased and exploratory drilling started in August of 1912. It was not until December of 1917 however, that the main shaft was sunk and development started. By February 5, 1924 the shaft was down 200 feet, including 120 feet of wet, sandy overburden. Operating drifts extended out toward Foley Lake. At 3:25 p.m. on that fateful day mud and water broke into the lower level of the mine and within 20 minutes the mine was completely flooded. Seven miners managed to climb a ladder to safety.
Forty-one perished in what was the worst disaster in the history of the lake states mining industry. Today, evidence exists of the structures and hardships associated with mining. Local trails are planned to connect to the Milford Mine site, where interpretive displays will memorialize the miners and the mine.
Other points of interest
The Ironton Sintering Plant Complex, located approximately one-half mile north of Ironton, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is on the west bank of Portsmouth Mine lake. This site is significant because it was the second major beneficiation plant built in the United States. Beneficiation is a term used to describe the collective processes of, but not limited to, sintering, crushing and washing of non-selectively mined iron ore. The mined iron ore from the Cuyuna Range was of lower grade quality and had to be processed and improved to meet user specifications. Sintering, the technique of concentrating the iron ore into a mass by heating without melting was unique to the Cuyuna Range. According to the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, the Ironton sintering plant reflects the capacity of the iron.