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Nature Center Spotlight: Tamarack

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The approach to Tamarack Nature Center is idyllic. A large, lush lawn with ample shade offers comfortable spots for picnics and lounging. On the lawn's south edge is the Nature Play Area, a new playground concept designed to give kids a more "outdoorsy" play experience (parent hint-bring a swimsuit and towel or change of clothes). Overseeing it all is Morpho, the giant frog made of recycled stuff. Oh yeah, there is great hiking, too!

Tamarack Nature Center sits in White Bear Township, in the metro's northeast corner. A full wandering of its trails will give you a solid five-mile hike and a wide mix of scenery to go with it. This 2.5-mile route takes you out to the quiet edges and shows off many of the center's highlights.

Between the building and the Nature Play Area, follow the paved path to junction 6 (see the trail map for the junction locations). Say goodbye to the pavement and turn left onto the dirt trail. Pass the bench and in moments step up onto the boardwalk. Rather than open water, this wetland is damp and spongy with plenty of plant life framing the boardwalk on both sides. The boardwalk twists and turns for a few hundred feet before the landscape opens up to a small cattail marsh. The boardwalk ends here on firmer ground (after a couple steps anyway). Follow the trail to the right then take a left up the big staircase. Take in the view. From here, take the trail to your right (west). At the fork, go left and continue to junction 9. Another left puts you onto the Meadowlark Trail. Cross this prairie section and ease slightly right at junction 10. This is the Fish Lake Trail. The trail gently sways back and forth before crossing Fish Lake Creek and climbing to a wooded ridge. Small Fish Lake will come into view on your right and the trail will stick to the high ground for a few minutes. The shade soon recedes, however, as the trail drops to cross the creek again and moves onto the prairie edge. The trail dips in and out of the woods for a couple times before reaching junction 7. Swing left onto the Goldenrod Trail and head back into the forest.

The trail soon enters the least pleasant part of the hike. For a few minutes you walk parallel to I-35E. Don't let it bother you. Soon enough the trail turns back to the east and away from the highway. A stand of pines greets you on the final leg of this route. From here, the path meanders through the pines, skirts another marsh, and roams near the Teal Lake shoreline before turning south and ending back at the visitor center. If you aren't quite done, the 1.3-mile Tamarack and Oak Trails route is a great finisher. Begin on the same trail as the first hike, but skip the big staircase and follow the Tamarack Trail around the lake. Have fun!

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