A vanished forest

Line drawing of a white pine tree.

...visitors' guide to an outdoor exhibit at Wild River State Park

Walk under white pines and compare yourself to the height, width, age, and weight of the trees that once stood in the St. Croix River valley. Learn how logging in the 1800s made the "endless" pine forests of Minnesota vanish.

This exhibit, completed in 1996, is located beside the parking lot of the Trail Center at Wild River State Park. Look for the large "A Vanished Forest" sign on the west side of the parking lot at the edge of the white pine plantation.

The exhibit consists of several components, intended to be fun and informative for all ages. In particular, teachers may find it useful as part of an educational visit to the park. Here's what you'll encounter at the exhibit:

Introductory panel

"What was it like in the towering white pine forests of the St. Croix Valley?" briefly describes the discovery of large white pine in Minnesota's St. Croix Valley, mentions the 1837 treaty with the Ojibwe that opened the valley to loggers and settlers, and asks visitors to imagine how big a 200-foot white pine would be compared to their own size.

Diameter/time model

A full-size cement representation of a six-foot diameter pine cross-section, with markers showing the tree's growth from seedling diameter and up through the years of events in U.S. history: "Columbus lands in America," "Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock," "U.S. Declaration of Independence," until the tree was cut by loggers to provide enough lumber for a family's entire home. The model also challenges visitors to stand at the center and see if they can reach across the width of a six-foot tree by spreading their arms.

Line drawing of a stump of a large tree.

Height and weight comparison panel

The left half asks visitors to use a vertical scale on the panel to find their height, and then see how many times taller a 200-foot white pine would be. You could figure this out ahead of time by dividing 200 feet by your height in feet, and see if the answer you get matches what you see on the chart.

The right half asks visitors to find their weight (to the nearest ten pounds) on a chart and read across to see how many people that weigh that amount it would take to equal the weight of a 200-foot white pine. This can also be done ahead of time, or you could compare the weights of other objects with the weight of the tree. The tree's live weight is estimated at 66.5 tons for the purpose of this exercise - over 27 times the weight of a standard pickup truck, or more than 10 African elephants, or more than an adult sperm whale. The final question on this panel asks "How many of you do you think it would take to lift this tree?" If visitors know their lifting capacity, they can calculate the answer to this question, or it can merely be used as a teaser to suggest that it would take an awful lot of people to move a tree this size.

"Walk to the top of the tree" exercise

The sign at the beginning of this section asks visitors to imagine they are standing at the base of a 200-foot white pine that has been laid on the ground, and asks how many steps they think it would take them to get to the top. They can then count steps while walking the marked distance and find out if they were right. Signs are posted along the way at intervals corresponding to the height or length of familiar or famous objects - a standard 2x4, a 2-story house, a rural telephone pole, a semi-trailer truck, the tallest white pine measured at Wild River State Park, the St. Croix State Park fire tower (100 feet - only half the height of our exhibit "tree"), the biggest white pine in Minnesota (115 feet, located in Itasca State Park), the biggest red pine (120 feet, also at Itasca), the tallest tree in Minnesota (130 feet - a white spruce in Koochiching County - also the height of the top of Split Rock Lighthouse above Lake Superior), a fallen white pine found north of Taylors Falls in 1916, after the valley had been heavily logged (135 feet), the length of a 50-meter dash (165 feet), the height of a national record white pine from upper Michigan (181 feet), and the end marker at 200 feet.

Summary panel

"What happened to the northern pine forests of the St. Croix Valley?" mentions the hundreds of thousands of people across North America who lived in homes made from lumber from the St. Croix Valley. It shows photos of the incredible piles of lumber that came from these forests, and shows the barren landscape after the trees were cut. It describes the end of the logging era as the trees that logging companies said would last forever were used up within 2 generations, and mentions the change in wildlife habitat that resulted. It asks visitors, "If you could turn back time, would you try to change what happened?" It describes the planting, in the 1950s, of the pines that stand in straight rows where the exhibit is located, and mentions places in the park to see bigger pines, and places to go to learn more about logging, including the exhibit at the Nevers Dam overlook near the picnic area.

Topic summary

  • St. Croix Valley pine forests said to have enough trees to provide lumber forever.
  • 1837 Treaty with Ojibwa.
  • Huge trees once grew in the valley - 200 feet tall, six feet thick.
  • Comparison of events in American history with growth of a white pine.
  • Physical comparisons of white pine diameter, height, and weight with human size, whale weight, and the heights of familiar objects. Arithmetic exercises possible.
  • Importance of the St. Croix Valley?s pine forests in providing lumber for hundreds of thousands of people across North America.
  • Logging companies in the 1800s cut all the pine forests and moved on, didn?t plant trees to replace what they cut.
  • Difference between a planted pine stand and a natural pine forest.
  • Change in wildlife with loss of pine forest habitat.
  • Places to go in the park to see naturally-grown white pine.
  • Places to go in the park for more information on logging era.


The exhibit is on a level site adjacent to vehicle parking, with a hard-surfaced trail through it for easy accessibility, but may be difficult to access in winter. A taped narration of the exhibit content is available for special needs - ask at the park office or visitor center.

Produced by Park Naturalist, Wild River State Park, November 2002. For information about this exhibit or interpretive program questions, contact the naturalist at 651-583-2925. Wild River State Park, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - Interpretive Services.