Blueberries on the barrens

Blueberries are the reason many people come to the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area. This has been true for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.

The barrens were part of the “seasonal rounds” that first Dakota and then Ojibwe people made in the region, setting up camps in summer to pick and preserve the berries and burning areas to encourage patches to flourish.

Early white settlers picked them as well. On land that was not very productive for other crops, blueberries were sometimes the best cash crop they had.

Pickers still come today to hunt for the best patches. The fruits are small, compared to commercial berries, but they are both sweet and tangy, wonderful for pancakes, muffins, pies and eating by the handful.

You can scout the barrens in May when the bushes send out their white blossoms. Picking can start in late June but typically reaches its peak in the middle of July. And every year brings debate about how big the crop will be, whether a late frost has hurt, how much rain has helped or hurt.

By Dave Peters