Pillsbury State Forest, ten miles northeast of Brainerd, made history by being a forest of "firsts." It was the first state forest in Minnesota and contained the first state nursery.
The forest was named after John S. Pillsbury who served as governor of Minnesota from 1876 to 1887. In 1900 he gave 990 acres of cut over pine lands in southern Cass County to the Minnesota State Forestry Board, thus enabling the area to become the first forest reserve.
The land formed the nucleus of the Pillsbury State Forest when it was established by the Legislature in 1935.
In 1903 land clearing was started for the state's first forest tree nursery at the Pillsbury area. Tree seeds were planted the following spring.
In 1911, the first fire lookout tower in the region was erected. Built of wood, "Martin Hope Tower" was later abandoned after the construction of the Gull Lake Lookout Tower, a modern steel structure, in 1939.
Millions of board feet of virgin pine were cut from one of the many logging camps which logged nearly all of Pillsbury State Forest by the turn of the century. Most of the logs were transported by sleigh or railroad to Gull Lake, rafted to Gull River, then floated downstream to a sawmill just south of Highway 210 on the west shore of the river. Traces of the mill are still visible.
THE FOREST TODAY- The Pillsbury State Forest is fast becoming a center of attraction to visitors of the Brainerd lake country. Pillager is to the south and Pequot Lakes and Pine River to the northeast, with Brainerd ten miles southeast.
Ninety-one small ponds and lakes dot the 14,780 acres of rolling and hilly countryside of the forest. There are many steep slopes and deep ravines blanketed with red oak, paper birch, and aspen along with sprinklings of white, Norway, and jack pine.
The forest borders two major recreation waters, Gull Lake and Lake Sylvan. The entire eastern boundary of the Pillsbury is adjacent to these lakes.
The Division of Lands and Forestry of the Minnesota Department of Conservation has jurisdiction over 7,883 acres while the Department's Division of Game and Fish oversees 600 more. Cass County administers 886 acres of which 480 are designated as a County Memorial Forest.
Lands administered by governmental agencies total 9,369 acres or 63 percent. The remaining 37 per cent or 5,411 acres is privately owned.
The Division constructs narrow roads which meander through the forest to provide access for timber, game and fish management, and forest protection. These roads provide access for sightseeing and hunting. Riding, hiking and snowmobile trails meander through the forest and are well-marked and brushed.
Perhaps the most important game animal in the forest is the whitetailed deer. Other species included squirrel, fox, coyote, raccoon, rabbit, mink, weasel, black bear. There are many ruffed grouse and waterfowl. One of the lakes, Beauty Lake, is periodically stocked with rainbow trout.
Through the cooperative efforts of the Lands and Forestry and Game and Fish divisions, work together to improve game habitat. Timber sales and site preparation provide winter deer food in the form of slash at the time of cutting and future food from the new growth of vegetation.
The Pillsbury State Forest is one of three forests managed by the Conservation Department in the Brainerd area. The other two are the Crow Wing State Forest, northeast of PeIican Lake encompassing 31,307 acres, and the Rum River State Forest, eight miles southeast of Onamia, Minn. and two miles east of Hwy. 169. The Rum River forest totals 33,180 gross acres with the state owning 16,591 acres within the forest.
FOREST MANAGEMENT- The Division's goals of Pillsbury and all 55 Minnesota state forests are to protect, develop, utilize and administer all the resources on the forest lands.
Hardwood types such as oak, maple, ash, elm, basswood occupy 58 percent of the timber-producing area in the Pillsbury. The second largest group consist of aspen and birch, 24 percent. The rest is covered by jack pine, spruce-balsam, tamarack, Norway pine, and white pine.
Total timber supply in the forest is 71,300 cords. If this wood was placed in a single pile four feet high and eight feet wide, it would span a distance of three miles.
As of 1970, 1.1 million seedlings had been planted in the Pillsbury State Forest.
Margaret Lake was once called Gilpatrick Lake. It was named by a man named Gil Patrick who operated a logging company and hauled logs in the winter using a team of four horses. One day while crossing the Homebrook River the ice gave way and he and his horses were killed.
Nisswa was a logging community and getting logs to the Mississippi River and on to processing mills was a problem. So, the logs were taken through the lakes tied in a circle. They were then floated to a bay named "Booming Out Bay" -- in Gull Lake.
THE AGING OF LAKES- What Stephen Forbes, a pioneer student of American waters, means when he calls a lake a microcosm is that a lake is a little world all by itself. And this is so, for the many kinds of animals and plants in a lake depends upon each other.
PEAT FORMED- Peat is the name given to a class of soils formed through the ages by the partial decomposition of grasses and mosses growing in swamps and shallow Iakes of Crow Wing County which, for some reason, have reason, have dried out, leaving a bed of "peat," varying in depth from a few inches to 40 or 50 feet.
When it is drained, it makes excellent farming land. Marl, often found under peat beds or along the edges, is good for "sweetening the soil."
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).