True Blue Berries (Minnesota Monthly)

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Minnesota Monthly picture LARGE for article pageIn Burnett County, Wisconsin, divulging the location of a wild blueberry patch ranks right up with mapping the directions to someone’s fishing hole: it’s a no-no. For the sake of good-hearted amateur pickers, we’re willing to break a few rules. Armed with directions to some secret spots, you can make a fruitful trip across the St. Croix River.

The wild berries flourish in the 1,500 square miles of sandy country up and down the St. Croix River Valley from St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, to Lake Superior.

Minnesotans have been raiding Wisconsin’s wild berry patches since the late 1800’s, when the “Blueberry Special” train carried Minnesota ladies across the river to Burnett County, where they gathered the indigo fruit. Back then, the women instructed the train conductor to drop them off wherever the picking was best. Here are two spots they frequented.

Crex Meadows Wildlife Area

Located just north of Grantsburg, Crex is not only Wisconsin’s largest state owned wildlife area, it also has the best patches around. “This is a real historic blueberry spot,” said Crex Meadows DNR biologist Jim Hoefler. He and other scientists maintain a 2,500-acre refuge at Crex’s southeast corner for blueberry picking. From July 4 to the end of summer, the patches there are open to the public and filled with the berry-hopeful. Because blueberries like to sprout in the wake of forest fire, officials burn sections of the Crex forest every few years.

Burnett County forests

This land is all open to the public. Chunks of the government-owned forest are interspersed throughout the county. Some are marked with signs. (Maps are available by calling the toll-free number below; on them, the forests are designated “public land.”) You can drive on forest trails but must walk to pick the berries. Tip: For good picking, look for the spots cleared by loggers or burned in the county sponsored “firebreaks.”

For maps and other county destinations, call (800) 788-3164 or log on to www.mwd.com/burnett/.

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