As summer quietly slips away, autumn starts its slow but steady progression. Eventually deciduous trees show their brilliant hues of red, yellow and orange and Tamarac's tamaracks will be illuminated in golden needles throughout the valleys and wetlands.

The skies come alive with swans, geese and migratory birds starting their journey south. Spend some time in nature to rejuvenate your spirit before the frigid temperatures arrive and enjoy the beautiful transition of seasons.

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Sanctuary area now open

After a busy summer of wildlife raising their young, the sanctuary area is now open for visitor use. Adventure into the many trails to experience pure Minnesota wilderness.

Beginning Sept. 1 and continuing through February, the northern half of the refuge will be open for hiking, hunting and foraging for wild edibles. During the fall, the refuge permits hunting for small game, waterfowl and white-tailed deer. However there are still a few areas closed. Be sure to pick up a brochure at the information kiosks located at the entrances of the refuge or the visitor center.

Visitor Center

If you've got questions, our enthusiastic staff has answers. We are eager to help you make the most of your visit. Check out our interactive exhibits and learn about the diverse habitats which support Tamarac's many species of wildlife.

Learn about the historical use of the refuge including that of the Ojibwe Indians and the European settlers. Be sure to view our large screen presentation entitled: "Tamarac: Its Life and Legends." Before you leave, browse in the Tamarac Bookshop. Proceeds from sales support educational programs at the refuge.

The visitor center is located 9 miles north of Hwy 34. Visitor center hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through October 16.

Refuge photo contest

Tamarac NWR and the Friends of Tamarac invite you to participate in our annual photography contest. This year's deadline is September 16. All photos must be taken on the refuge. There are five categories: Nature's Abstracts, Plant Life, Recreation, Wildlife, and Scenic.

For contest rules and entry forms, contact the refuge at 218-847-2641 or stop by the visitor center.

Movies, presentations

  • Sunday, Sept. 4, movie 2 p.m.: "Mino-Bimadiziiwin: The Good Life," Ojibwe wild rice harvesting in Minnesota -- an engaging portrait of a community on the White Earth reservation where people's lives revolve around the annual harvest of wild rice.
  • Sunday, Sept. 11, movie 2 p.m.: "Bears" -- Discover the world of bears and experience a fascinating encounter with one of nature's most inspiring and misunderstood creatures.
  • Sunday, Sept. 18, 2 p.m.: Forest Fungi Talk and Walk -- Join USDA plant biologist Tom Gulya for a walk in the woods. Be in the know! Learn how to identify mushrooms and other fascinating fungi as you enjoy the colors of the season. Meet at the visitor center for presentation and carpool to hiking location.
  • Sunday, Sept. 25, 2 p.m. movie: "The Man Who Planted Trees" -- This film tells the story of a solitary shepherd who plants and nurtures a forest of thousands of trees. This Academy Award winning animated film is one of great beauty and hope.
  • Sunday, Sept. 25, 3-5 p.m.: Fall Color Nature Photo Safari -- Experience autumn on the refuge through the lens of a camera! With the fall colors nearing their peak, we will travel by car caravan to some very scenic and perhaps less known areas on the refuge. Discover how Tamarac's wildlife and plants prepare for winter. Meet at the visitor center for a brief photo composition refresher.
  • Saturday, Oct. 1 10 a.m.-4 p.m.: Annual Fall Festival -- Nature Detectives -- Come celebrate the season as you become nature detectives on the refuge! Examine the natural world up close. Children's activities are scheduled throughout the day. Take a refuge tour behind the gates into the wilderness to learn the detective techniques of a biologist. Lunch will be available for sale.

Myths and Mother Nature -- fall colors

Why do some leaves turn red in the fall? An old Indian legend provides one explanation. It was said that long ago the Great Bear wandered freely throughout the night sky. He hunted and fished, finding food there in the many "rivers" of the sky. Little did he know that there were three young braves following him.

They sought his pelt and meat to feed their families in the long winter to come. The braves chased the bear throughout the summer. Each time, the bear narrowly escaped. But finally, the braves caught up with him. In this first autumn, their arrows pierced the great bear and he died.

The blood of the bear spilled out of the sky and tinged all the leaves red and orange. In mourning, the trees then dropped all their leaves for their friend, the Great Bear. But this is not a sad story. The Great Bear was reborn the following spring, as it is with bears and the braves set out after him again. They do this each year. If you look up into the sky, you can see the braves trailing behind the Great Bear as he runs to the horizon only to do it again.

Though perhaps not as enchanting, the other explanation for fall color comes from science. As the length of daylight or the "photo period" decreases, the production of chlorophyll decreases and eventually comes to an end. Other factors such as colder temperatures and a reduction in moisture levels also contribute to the reduction of chlorophyll.

The green pigment of chlorophyll disappears revealing other pigments present in the leaves. Trees such as birch, aspen, hard maple and cottonwood contain the pigments carotene, carotenoid and xanthophyll. These are responsible for the bright yellows and golds. The pigment tannin is responsible for the brown colors of oaks and ironwood leaves.

Trees with anthocyanin, which develops as it's exposed to sunlight, turn red and purple. Included in this group would be sumac, soft maple, white and red oak.

With either explanation, I think we can all appreciate the tapestry of color that presents itself each fall.