The wind puffed out of the northwest at a double-digit clip last Friday morning. The sky was clear, the air temperate as a pair of hikers meandered along a lowland trail at Frontenac State Park, a 2,300-acre gem along the Mississippi River 10 miles southeast of Red Wing.
The 58-year-old park is known for two things: bird-watching and a 430-foot limestone bluff overlooking Lake Pepin, the widest natural part of the Mississippi River.
Today it would be known for something else.
It was about nine o'clock on the sunny summer morning. The hikers were making their way along a public trail when they decided to veer off the beaten path. That's when they walked into a crop of marijuana.
The plants were six feet high. Robust buds sprung from the leaves. Some appeared as if they'd been harvested. The bumper crop consisted of more than 500 mature plants, which apparently had prospered under the husbandry of no one but Mother Nature.
"Whether or not they were of good quality, I wouldn't know," says Goodhue County Sheriff Chief Deputy Kris Johnson, whose office was contacted by the hikers. "I would think if you brought it out to Colorado they'd probably laugh at you."
It's not uncommon for pot plants to grow wild in concentrated numbers, according to Johnson.
"It will definitely appear in clumps and clusters," he says. "Plants that are left alone will re-seed themselves, multiply over seasons, and get bigger. They're kind of like a perennial flower and quite an amazing plant, really, because they can be difficult to eradicate."
After determining that the plants' proximity to the walking trail and a wayside rest along Highway 61 might make them an irresistible draw for stoners on a budget, sheriff officials hacked them down. The harvest was then hauled off to an incinerator.