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Big Island Autumn Trek

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Anchor Ostrowski and Abby roam the forest trail on Big Island on Whitefish Lake Saturday Oct. 6, under a canopy of changing leaves. Leaf color peak should come this weekend in Central Minnesota. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video 2 / 2

The Rollie Johnson Natural and Recreational Area is a series of two small and one large island known locally as "Big Island."

These islands are located within Upper Whitefish Lake, are open to the public and are managed by the Minnesota DNR and Crow Wing County under a joint powers board comprised of seven members.

The islands include Big Island, Little Island and Steamboat Island, and each has campsites open to the public. But the islands are much more than a camping area.

Before the Whitefish Chain was discovered as a recreational playground, the area was largely supported by logging. While most of the area around the chain was logged, the islands were not. Today the islands are populated by trees that in some cases are well over 150 years old.

Additionally, the islands hold a unique ecosystem: a maple-basswood forest. It's one of the northernmost instances of such a forest in North America. This makes the islands very special.

The Trillium Trail is a great way to explore this forest. It's on Big Island, and if you head out to the island, beach your boat, kayak or canoe on the northeast side of the island on the sandy shore. The three islands can be reached only by boat and shortest distance is from the Bertha Boat Works dock. Video/ Steve Kohls