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Big Birch Lake lies at the heart of Minnesota. With sparkling water spread across Todd and Stearns County lines, Big Birch Lake is at the geographic center of the "land of 10,000 lakes." Stearns County, located in Minnesota's Central tourism region, is also the "home" of Garrison Keillor's fictional Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." Located just off Highway 94, Big Birch Lake is a pleasant 100-mile drive northwest of the Twin Cities.
Big Birch Lake was created by glacial movement during the Wisconsin Ice Age, approximately 35,000 years ago. The Plains Indians -- Ojibwe, Sioux, Chippewa and Dakota -- lived on this land for centuries. The Native American name given to Big Birch Lake translated to the "Place of Little Birches." Traces of an ancient fort were discovered along the shores of Big Birch Lake in the mid-19th century; during this time the lake went through several name changes including: Birch Bark Fort Lake, Fort Lake, Birch Lake and finally Big Birch Lake.
Big Birch Lake is formed from two basins separated by a rocky sandbar. Once rising above the surface, rocks have been removed from the sandbar to accommodate boating. At 1,362 acres, the lower (main) basin is almost twice the size and volume of the upper (northeast) basin. Big Birch Lake is fed by Fish Creek, Calahan Creek and Bass Creek, among other small streams generally found in the upper basin. Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources controls an outlet dam located along the western shore. This outlet was originally constructed during the Great Depression. A permanent replacement dam, built in 1973, controls Big Birch Lake water levels by draining water into adjacent Little Birch Lake.
Fishing has long been an attraction to Big Birch Lake. With a maximum depth of 81 feet in the lower basin and total surface area of 2,112 acres, Big Birch Lake's expansive surface remains a welcome sight to fishermen. Several boat ramps provide public access to Big Birch Lake. Two concrete ramps, as well as parking for 20 trailers, lie on the northwest shore on Angler Drive. A third unpaved ramp is located on the north end of Big Birch Lake on County Road 2. Fish species found in Big Birch Lake include walleye measuring up to 30 inches, two-pound northern pike, smallmouth and largemouth bass between 11 and 14 inches, bluegills up to 10 inches, crappie up to 15 inches, pumpkinseeds, hybrid sunfish, bowfin, common carp, shorthead redhorse and yellow bullheads.
Additional access to Big Birch Lake can be found on the eastern shore in the community of Grey Eagle. Big Birch Lake Park is located on 102nd Street. The park's family-friendly amenities include a picnic area, swimming area, dock, beach and lawn areas and bath house. On the southwest side of the lake, Birch Lakes State Forest offers 200 yards of shoreline that attracts swimmers and picnickers. Campers may choose from 24 drive-in campsites, five walk-in campsites or a primitive group campsite. A hiking trail through the 637-acre forest provides wildlife viewing in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter.
If you choose to leave the tranquility of Big Birch Lake, you can enjoy golfing at area courses, mountain biking at 643-acre Quarry Park, hiking the Lake Wobegon Trail, touring Sauk Centre, the boyhood home of Sinclair Lewis and setting for his novel, "Main Street," or shopping in downtown St. Cloud, 50 miles to the southeast.
Winters can be long in central Minnesota, so when the snow falls and Big Birch Lake freezes over, it's time for winter sports and attractions. Snowmobiling tops the list, followed by ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and winter festivals.
The majority of shoreline development lies at the southern end of Big Birch Lake. Over 425 residences have been built with approximately two-thirds being seasonal cottages and homes. Whether you select a vacation rental or purchase real estate property, Big Birch Lake and the heartland of Minnesota will lure you back again and again. After the summer clouds stop rolling across the prairie, hike through the woodland's blaze of fall color. Then watch winter settle into the landscape. Now is the time to sit by the fire, listen to the soft, fragile silence after a snowfall and plan for the coming of spring and a new season on Big Birch Lake.
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